Speaking of death, one of the monks, Brother Kevin, took us on a tour of the Abbey last night. He said that he wanted to begin where it all ends, and so started with the cemetery, which I’ve already discussed. I bring this up because the Benedictines pay attention to death. Benedict tells the monks to keep death ever before them and says, “day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.”
It can seem like a morbid preoccupation with death, but it isn’t. In many ways our society is based on a complete denial of the reality of death. (Several months ago, a very nice Christian man I met began a sentence with, “If I die…”). The Benedictines don’t so much embrace it in any sort of nihilistic way, as they acknowledge its very real presence in our lives. It is death that forces us to give life meaning – if we never died there would be no incentive to make a meaningful life. One of our texts for class quotes someone as saying that the question is not whether there is life after death, but whether there is life before death. (Indeed, perhaps the only thing we’ve “Left Behind” in our preoccupation with the rapture is a chance at really living). The monks, who believe that we are born to die, try to make a life every day. Only when they have embraced the reality of death can they embrace the responsibility of truly living.