A priest-friend of mine sent me this anecdote: One Sunday morning after Mass, the pastor noticed young little Alex standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was engraved with names and small American flags mounted on either side of it. The six-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the priest walked up, stood beside the little boy, and said quietly, “Good morning, Alex.” “Good morning, Father,” he replied, still focused on the plaque. “Father, what’s this?” he asked. The pastor replied, “Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the men and women who died in the service.” Soberly, they just stood together, staring at the large plaque. Finally, little Alex’s voice, barely audible and trembling with fear, asked: “Which service? The 7:30 or the 10:00?”
I was quite saddened to hear of the August 26th terrorist attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan that took place during the US withdrawal and subsequent airlift. During that attack, 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and upwards of 70 Afghan citizens lost their lives. I have spent many a day in the cemetery, burying veterans of our nation’s armed forces. I am always moved by the military honors performed in the cemetery. Both of my grandfathers served in the US Army during World War II. We must pray daily for our troops and service personnel, both living and deceased. May those who have lost their lives be given eternal rest.
This reminds me of my favorite painting of St. Francis of Assisi. The painting is titled St. Francis in the Desert and it’s painted by the Italian painter Giovanni Bellini. St. Francis is seen outside of his cave, looking up towards the heavens, perhaps receiving the stigmata. I actually saw this painting in my first-grade religion textbook and was mesmerized by it. I was able to see the original in person at the Frick Collection in New York City. One of the details in this painting is a skull sitting on St. Francis’ desk. I was always intrigued by that skull.
A skull sitting on a desk is called a memento mori—“remember death” in Latin. It’s a reminder that one day we all will be called home to God. We know not the day nor the hour. In the crypt chapel of the church of Our Lady of the Conception in Rome, there is a chapel made of hundreds of bones of deceased Capuchin Franciscan friars. The inscription reads: What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be. Those persons who lost their lives in Kabul on August 26th did not know they were to meet God that day. We need to always remember death and live each day as if it’s our last. This is, of course, not easy; but as Christians we strive to live in such a way. While I wouldn’t normally look to Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise for spiritual advice, he does wisely remark: “Better to not know which moment may be your last. Every morsel of your entire being alive to the infinite mystery of it all.”