Life and Death

Lenten Reflections 2015: Readings from Augustine

I had noticed the first three short comments some time ago, but recently I came across a fuller statement in the De civitate Dei.

“Their days were consumed in vanity, and their years in haste” (Ps 77[78]:33). The entire life of mortals hastens on, and a life that seems longer is just vapor that lingers a little longer. (In Ps 77:19; PL 36: 996)

Isn’t it so that the moment a person begins to live, he is already able to die? The beginning of life is the possibility of death. On this earth and in the human race the only person who cannot yet die is one who has not yet begun to live.  (Sermon 9, 2; PL 38, 76)

The moment we are born it’s necessary that we die. (Sermon 77, 14; PL 38, 489)

No sooner do we begin to live in this mortal body than death inevitably starts coming toward us. All during this life of change (if life it may be called) we are moving towards death. There is no one who is not nearer death this year than a year ago, and tomorrow than today, and today than yesterday, and a little while later than now, and now than a little while ago. Whatever time we have lived is deducted from our whole term of life, and the time that remains becomes less and less every day, so that our lifetime is nothing but a race towards death in which no one is allowed to stand still for a moment or to go somewhat more slowly, but all are driven forwards with equal movement and with equal speed. One whose life is short spends a day no more swiftly than one whose life is longer. But while the equal moments are impartially snatched from both, one has a nearer and the other a more remote goal toward which they race with equal speed. It is one thing to make a longer journey, and another to walk more slowly. One who has a longer time before death does not go more slowly but completes a longer journey. (De civitate Dei, XIII, 10; PL 41, 383)

Sobering thoughts, particularly for one aged seventy-six who must consider it likely that less time remains than has already been subtracted. But thoughts not inappropriate for Lent.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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