God uses nature and the seasons to teach us life lessons. As I’ve previously noted in this column, for me, autumn is the most poetic and instructive season. Have you ever noticed how the colors of the leaves become more beautiful the closer they come to death?
Our lives should reflect the lesson of the foliage: the more we age, the holier, the wiser and the more virtuous we should become. The problem, however, is that aging seems to be something that most people try to avoid. Meditating upon our death and final judgment, however, is a wonderful way to teach us how to live. It’s one of the reasons why, as we approach the end of the liturgical year and soon enter into Advent, the Sunday readings invite us to meditate on the Second Coming and Final Judgment.
I was blessed to live in Austria the first semester of my sophomore year in college. We lived in a beautifully renovated 14th century Carthusian monastery nestled in the foothills of the Alps. I’ll always remember walking through the courtyard and, many days, watching the morning clouds rising off the foothills. Each morning was like waking up in a fairytale. There was a real sense of the holy, particularly since for hundreds of years monks lived and prayed there in silence. They were, however, allowed to speak to one another once a year; but do you know what they said when they were able to speak? “Brother, remember your death.”
In his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey lists “Begin with the End in Mind” as Habit 2. As an exercise, he invites us to reflect on our death and how we would want to be remembered. Meditating on our death and final judgment is not meant to be morbid; rather, it is meant to inspire us to live holier lives. It is a powerful way to focus us on the most important aspects of our lives and on our final end, Eternal Life. How many of us, when contemplating our death, concludes that we want our legacy to be about money or the amount of hours that we worked? No. We want our legacy to be a virtuous life, a life that touched the lives of others.
So here’s a spiritual exercise: Think deeply about one word or phrase that describes the legacy you want to leave, the word or phrase that you would want to have written on your gravestone. Speak to the Lord about your life and let Him show you the areas where you need to improve. Ask forgiveness for the times you’ve strayed from the Lord, and resolve to live today and everyday as if it were the last day of your life.
Father Michael Najim is Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence, as well as Catholic Chaplain at LaSalle Academy, Providence.