Emily DeArdo’s Living Memento Mori: My Journey through the Stations of the Cross, is a little book that packs a big spiritual punch.
A couple of years ago when I first started seeing books on the topic of memento mori (several of which were written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp, who also wrote the foreword to this book), I wasn’t sure what to make of the whole idea. I’m a head-in-the-sand girl when it comes to thinking about my own mortality, or that of the people I love. I roll my eyes when my mom (yet again) re-plans her funeral and sends me a new list of instructions, right down to the musician she wants to play at the Mass. (A classmate of one of my kids, he lives 150 miles from my parents’ home and has never met them, so I’m not sure how this is going to work out, but Mom’s entitled to her hopes and dreams, I guess.)
I was surprised to find that Sr. Theresa Aletheia’s books were anything but creepy and morbid. But I didn’t let myself get too deep into the whole topic … and then, this fall, I entered into a season of life in which I just can’t avoid the thought anymore. The reality of my loved ones’ mortality was brought to the fore in some very big ways, and it has been a very stressful time. Couple that with the fact that my teenager lives with type 1 diabetes, a disease which he keeps under very good control but which has its scary, sometimes random moments, and I was perfectly positioned for the comforting take on this topic that Emily DeArdo provides in Living Memento Mori.
Yes, I said “comforting.” I’m not the one in my family facing health problems, but I’m supporting several loved ones with theirs, and there have been times when that was very overwhelming. I didn’t think I’d want to touch a book on the topic of death when the idea seemed way too close for comfort as it was, but I truly felt that DeArdo gets it. I needed to read this book.
You get news that shatters your world to its core and smashes your heart into a million pieces. And yet you still have to do laundry and make dinner and put gas in the car. It was the same for Jesus. On that day in Jerusalem, people still had to earn a living, clean their homes for Passover, buy vegetables, and fruits for dinner, get water at the well, tell their kids to stop fighting, and set the table.
But even if the world doesn’t stop, Jesus does. He know what we’re going through when our hearts break. Jesus knows what it’s like to be judged, to lose everything, and to receive a death sentence. … In our heartbreak, we can go to the Lord, and he wants us to come to him. The question isn’t whether Jesus is with us; the question is whether we will turn toward him or away from him in our pain. (5)
What if realizing you can’t do this on your own and surrendering your will to God — giving him the whole messy situation, all the pain, all the emotion — is what God wants you to do? (48)
Each of the 14 chapters corresponds to one of the Stations of the Cross. DeArdo begins each chapter with a short meditation on a particular Station, then discusses her own spiritual journey as well as the particular health challenges she faces as a cystic fibrosis patient and lung transplant recipient. Keep a notebook or journal handy as you read: every chapter concludes with several questions for journaling.
I’m not unfamiliar with the Stations of the Cross; my great-aunts and great-uncle, to whom I was very close, had a deep devotion to the Stations and made sure to get to a church daily to pray them. Over the years I’ve prayed various settings of the Stations of the Cross, but Living Memento Mori has brought this devotion home to me in a way that hasn’t happened before. It’s an encouragement and a comfort, even upon contemplating the horrors of Jesus’ Passion, to know that He understands our suffering. DeArdo’s insights into this topic make the burdens we face a little lighter.
I’ve learned that saying yes, even through clenched teeth in a whisper, is better than saying no to God. Why? Because even when you’re saying it amid a torrent of tears as you’re curled up in bed and you have no idea how this yes can lead to anything good, God is there. On the Cross, on Good Friday, Jesus felt abandonment. He felt the loss of God. He is the only one who can really understand the way you feel. (64)
Lent is an excellent time to foster a devotion to the Stations of the Cross, as many parishes offer weekly services on Fridays. But you don’t need to attend a special service to pray the Stations of the Cross. You can bring Living Memento Mori to church with you to walk the Stations as you pray; there’s an Appendix with a specially written meditation for each of the 14 Stations. Or you can pray the Stations at home. You don’t even have to wait until Lent to start. Living Memento Mori is an excellent prayer companion for anyone going through a time of trial and challenge.
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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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