The first time I heard this question was during a homily about a decade ago.
When the bishop raised the question, the congregation responded with some subtle laughter.
Now, there are actually ways to “arrange your digital legacy” that involve transferring ownership of your accounts to others.
But, if we are being honest with ourselves, that won’t really be that important.
Here’s what the bishop had said to provoke our reflection:
When you die, you are going to have emails in your inbox, and then what are you going to do? We live in a society obsessed with accomplishment and completion. Are your daily activities lifting your spirit and bringing you rest? Ask yourself not only what you are going to do, but who you will be once you’ve done it.
What a good meditation on mortality.
No one will answer our emails when we’re dead. Have we become comfortable with the realization?
I just came upon this evocative sermon on death by John Henry Newman called “The Lapse of Time.”
Such is death considered in its inevitable necessity, and its unspeakable importance—nor can we ensure to ourselves any certain interval before its coming. The time may be long; but it may also be short. It is plain, a man may die any day; all we can say is, that it is unlikely that he will die. But of this, at least, we are certain, that, come it sooner or later, death is continually on the move towards us. We are ever nearer and nearer to it. Every morning we rise we are nearer that grave in which there is no work, nor device, than we were. We are now nearer the grave, than when we entered this Church. Thus life is ever crumbling away under us. What should we say to a man, who was placed on some precipitous ground, which was ever crumbling under his feet, and affording less and less secure footing, yet was careless about it? Or what should we say to one who suffered some precious liquor to run from its receptacle into the thoroughfare of men, without a thought to stop it? who carelessly looked on and saw the waste of it, becoming greater and greater every minute? But what treasure can equal time? It is the seed of eternity: yet we suffer ourselves to go on, year after year, hardly using it at all in God’s service, or thinking it enough to give Him at most a tithe or a seventh of it
It is rare to think with this level of attention about the brevity of life.
However, some people do.
A couple years ago, I went to meet someone at his office where I noticed a poster with many small dots on it in rows and columns.
When I asked this man about it, he explained that it is a sort of life calendar depicting how many weeks he has to live if he lives the average lifespan of someone in his demographic.
He showed me the point in the poster at which he is now and explained that having this reminder in his office of the shortness of life spurs him on to tackle his tasks with resolve, gratitude, urgency, and enthusiasm.
To me, this memento mori exemplified the conscientious of which Newman speaks.
I’m thankful to a friend who reminded me that today is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and who, accordingly, suggested that I devote today’s post to her.
Gianna was an Italian Catholic pediatrician and mother of four. She is known for refusing life-saving medical interventions that would have resulted in the death of her fourth child with whom she was pregnant at the time.
While it would have been morally licit for her to opt for the interventions in an attempt to save her own life, since the loss of her child would have been wholly unintended and inadvertent, Gianna was willing to die in order that her unborn child might live.
How someone comes to such a decision with faith and courage is almost never momentary happenstance. As John Paul II put it– that Gianna knew how to offer her life as a sacrifice was the crowning of an exemplary existence.
One of my very favourite organizations, the Hildebrand Project, is committed to advancing the legacy of Dietrich von Hildebrand and of the wider personalist tradition.
Most recently, the Hildebrand Project team republished Dietrich von Hildebrand’s existential and theological meditation, Jaws of Death: Gate of Heaven, which the twentieth-century philosopher wrote shortly before his own death.
The book is divided into two sections – the first of which considers the Natural Aspect of Death and the second of which considers Death in the Light of Christian faith.