The Memento Mori Daily Examen

There’s a media-savvy nun by the name of Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble who, inspired by classical paintings of Mary Magdalen and the ancient Christian practice of memento mori, kept a skull on her desk for a year as a daily reminder of her death and documented the practice in a seemingly unlikely evangelical ally of a twitter account.

As Sr. Theresa Aletheia came to realize that the seemingly morbid daily practice of being reminded of her death led ended up leading to a fuller embrace of life, the fruits of her endeavor reverberated through the internet community and led to the creation of a printed book entitled Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional. Being able to make paradox, especially this paradox of how meditating on death leads to a life fully lived, appealing to the public is a gift and is ever-more relevant for Catholic Christians in this time and space.

Being that it is both Lent and that we are facing a global crisis where one cannot ignore the dubiousness of mortality, this is an apt time to share the Daily Examen found in her book. For those who are not familiar with the practice of a Daily Examen, an examen is designed to be an introspective prayer experience whereby one is led to a perception of God amidst the everyday. It can be done by one’s self or with others, as a group or a family with older or precocious kids. The daily examen is a practice designed for anyone at any level of spiritual maturity. As Catholics we often forget our most classic, tried and true practices and it’s a joy to be able to share a fresh way of looking at old things.

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble’s Memento Mori Daily Examen

At least once daily, cast your mind ahead to the moment of death so you can consider the events of each day in this light.

— Saint Josemaria Escriva

IN HIS RULE, SAINT BENEDICT urged his monks to “keep death daily before your eyes.”  Benedict urged the remembrance of death so that his monks would live better in this life and keep their eyes on Jesus.  Benedict also knew that the practice of remembering death is most effective when observed daily.  This Lenten devotional will help you to begin the practice of remembering death daily, if you don’t already.  But Lent will eventually end, and then you will have to find another way to remember death every day.  For this reason, each meditation in this devotional includes an examen, a time-honored practice that can be used to incorporate memento mori into your daily life. 

         For those new to it, the examen is a review of the day in light of God’s love and mercy.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola promoted the use of the examen to offer God praise and gratitude, identify areas of weakness in which God’s help is needed, and to ask for grace for the future.  This valuable spiritual practice has been encouraged in the Church for centuries because it has many benefits.  The examen is a perfect way to incorporate memento mori into daily life since making an examen already implicitly evaluates the day in view of heaven.  However, the version of the examen found below explicitly incorporates memento mori as a step in which you review the day in the context of your final hours.

HOW TO MAKE THE MEMENTO MORI DAILY EXAMEN

Step One: Become Aware of God’s Presence

         Close your eyes and become present to God dwelling within you through your Baptism.  Imagine yourself as a child under God’s omniscient, compassionate gaze.  Try to visualize yourself stepping out of your self-centeredness in order to see reality through the loving eyes of God.  This step is a crucial beginning to the examen as God’s perspective on our lives is the only important one.

Step Two: Ask for the Holy Spirit’s Guidance

         Offer a short prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help you to see the day in the light of God’s grace.

Step Three: Review the Day

         Ask the questions: “How has God loved me today?” and “How have I loved God and my neighbor today?”  Sometimes an obvious moment in the day will jump out – positive or negative – and you can sit with it.  However, this step is not like the examination of conscience before confession.  Focusing on the negative may come more naturally, but try to note both the positive and negative events of the day and bring them before God in sorrow and thanksgiving.

Step Four: Remember Your Death

         Consider the day in view of the last moments of your life.  Envision your deathbed scene and reflect on whatever arose in the previous step in the context of eternal life.  In this step, thank God for everything in the day that prepared you for heaven.  Ask God for the graces you need to better prepare for the moment of your death, which remains unknown.  Consider the question: “If I were to die tomorrow, what graces would I need from God?”

Step Five: Look Toward Tomorrow

         End by looking forward to the next day.  In this step, thank God for the gift of another day of life, should it be God’s will.  Think of the specific events of the following day, especially those for which you need particular graces. Visualize yourself trusting and acting in God’s grace as you live both the trying and joyful moments of the next day.  This step, if done faithfully, will lead to concrete behavioral and emotional changes in your life. 

         Note: At first, the examen may take about ten minutes, but once you get used to the practice it can be done in less time.  Do not get caught up in doing the steps precisely; there are many different ways to do the examen.  All that matters is that you get into the rhythm and spirit of the practice and see it bearing fruit.

         Hopefully, by the end of Lent, remembering your death and making a regular examen will have become almost a second nature and a powerful way to grow in holiness!

Let us prepare ourselves for a good death, for eternity.  Let us not lose our time in lukewarmness, in negligence, in our habitual infidelities

— St. John Vianney

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Further Reading

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Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble’s Books

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble Twitter

Georges de La Tour – Penitent Magdalen at the Met Museum

Download Printable Memento Mori Daily Examen Here

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