Memento Mori, Memento Vivere

I have this friend who has two tattoos of Latin phrases, one on his chest and the other on his back.  They're pretty significant, so you can't miss them when he's at the beach.  

I'm into tattoos, which probably puts off a few people, but for some of us, they help to tell the story of our lives in a very public way.  

The phrases on my friend are similar but express two different existential and philosophical ideas.  One is "Memento Mori," and the other is "Memento Vivere."  

Memento Mori is a phrase that most people might be familiar with.  Essentially, it means: "Remember that you must die."  

In Meditations, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius writes, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

The Stoics took that philosophy to the extreme, determining that the only proper way to live was to constantly contemplate death and become preoccupied with it.  In their minds, that was when we became our best selves, free from the fear of death. 

There's some truth in that, to be sure, but far too many Stoics also slid into hedonism, living their lives in self-indulgent ways without considering the repercussions of their actions.  

Still, I rather like the thought behind the concept of Memento Mori.  Life is short, and we should never forget that fact.  We don't know when our own will end or those that we love, for that matter.  

But there is another phrase to consider: Memento Vivere, which my friend sought to do when he had it tattooed on his body. 

Memento Vivere means: "Remember that you must live." 

This phrase reminds us that while we ought to consider the brevity of life, we also need to hold that knowledge in tension with how incredible life can be when we remember to live it well.  

And so, if we are to be whole people, we need to hold these two thoughts in tension. 

As Scripture teaches us, we must remember that our life is "but a breath."  But we should also recall the words of Jesus, who unequivocally declared that he came to bring us "life in abundance."  

When we do this, we learn what it means to live every moment as if it could be our last and be fully present in those moments to receive whatever they have to offer us--even when what they offer is painful. 

After all, in both joy and pain, we discover what it means to truly live as those who know they will die one day.  And we also discover what it means, as one of our historic Church creeds proclaims, that "in life and death, we belong to God." 

May it be so for you, me, and all of us.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen. 


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