MementoMori

Stop Christian Passer-by…and Pray

By Joey Spencer | August 12, 2022


“If I had my life to live over again, I would form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practice, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is not another practice which so intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life.”

—Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
 
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MementoMori

Stop Christian Passer-by…and Pray

By Joey Spencer | August 12, 2022

“If I had my life to live over again, I would form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practice, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is not another practice which so intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life.”

 
—Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
 
I have a lot of books. One of my favorite things in life is to have a comfortable chair, warm coffee, and a good book in my hands. It is a common occurrence that the book I sit down with will not be the same book I find myself reading when I finish my pot of coffee. Some interesting statement in the first book will lead me back to something I read in another and so on and so on, until, by the end of the pot of coffee, there is a new stack of books which have migrated from the shelves to the side of my chair. Recently it was not the book, but the bookmark, which set me off on my reading adventure…and prayer. A great number of my books have been bought second-hand in used bookstores. Very often they will have prayer cards for friends and family members who have passed away tucked inside. I always keep these prayer cards. Sometimes they find their way into the current book I am reading, marking my place, but also reminding me to pray for the dead. On this particular day the prayer card was for a Ms. Chastain who was born in 1932 and died in 2008. On seeing her card, I said a prayer for her, and before I started reading the book, praying for this woman led me to another book in search of something I had recently read about a memorial stone asking for prayer in an old English church. The memorial stone was for the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When the famous poet of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner knew he was going to die, he prepared the poem that is engraved on his memorial stone.  
“Stop Christian Passer-by! Stop Child of God. And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod A poet lies, or that which once seem’d he O, lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.: That he who many a year with toil of breath Found death in life, may here find life in death! Mercy for praise-to be forgiven for fame He asked and hoped through Christ. Do thou the same!”
The memorial stone is located in the center aisle of St. Michael’s Church, Highgate. It is an ever-present reminder to each “passer-by” not only to pray for those who have gone before us, but also to pray and prepare for our own death. Having found my reference to Coleridge’s memorial stone, and saying a quick prayer for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I then recalled a similar request for prayers by the author of a twelfth century book on painting, glassmaking, and metalwork. The book, On Divers Arts, was written under the name Theophilus, which was almost assuredly a pseudonym. Scholars believe that the real author was either a Benedictine monk or Roger of Helmarshausen, an early twelfth century artisan. Whoever Theophilus was, he had the foresight to know that his text would be read many years after his death. Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he too asks for prayers when he is gone.  
When you have read this again and again and entrusted it to your tenacious memory, you will repay your instructor for his pains if every time you have made good use of my work, you pray for me that I may receive the mercy of almighty God who knows that I have written what is here systematically set forth neither out of love for human praise nor from desire for temporal reward, and that through envious jealousy I have neither stolen anything precious or rare nor silently reserved anything for myself alone, but rather that I have given aid to many men in their need and have had concern for their advancement to the increase of the honor and glory of His name.[1]
Almost a thousand years later, after reading this passage in his book, I said a prayer for Theophilus. The Church teaches that we should pray for the dead; it is one way in which we participate in the communion of saints. Praying for the dead is also a reminder that we too will someday die, and God will judge us on how we lived. So, if you are reading this in your comfortable chair with a hot mug of coffee, please say a prayer for Ms. Chastain, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Theophilus, and those other friends and family who have preceded us in death. And, if you are reading this (hopefully many years in the future) and I have gone on to my judgment, please say a prayer for me!       [1] Theophilus, On Divers Arts (New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1979), 13.

Joey Spencer

Joey Spencer is a Tutor for the Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture, and serves as the Archivist for the Diocese of Tulsa.

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