Every Lent, Dominicans sing the verse Media vita in morte sumus est, which basically translates, In the midst of life, we are in death. We even have our own special Dominican chant tone for it–probably not one you have heard before. For many years, we have sung this verse at Compline, but we realize now that we never took it with the seriousness it demands. There have been years when one (or more) of our sisters died during Lent, but these sisters were all elderly and sick. It saddened us, but it was not a surprise. This year is different. Although no one in our community has fallen sick (and we pray no one does), the magnitude of this crisis forces us all to contemplate the reality that we never know when death will come. God may give us months or even years of preparation, or He make take us suddenly. It doesn\’t have to be a pandemic. There are so many things that could come together at one instant: a car accident, or a tree falling (something that is possible in our monastery surrounded by forest), a plane crash. A sudden stroke. Anything.
That is why we take particular care to meditate on death both during Advent and Lent. Although this may seem morbid or even a sign of mental illness in the world, for a Christian it is vitally important to remember that this life is a kind of preparation, a testing ground, for the next. Will we turn to God for help when things start to look bad? Or will we try to drown out His whispers with partying? In times like this, people tend to do one or the other. We have been edified to see so many people of different ages, races, and faiths come together trying to help during this pandemic. We have been sorry to hear stories of people taking advantage of this crisis by price gouging, hoarding, and theft. It\’s not hard to check your conscience here. Ask yourself: If I had a sudden heart attack and fell on the ground dead, would I be ready to meet God? Be honest!
There are so many people risking their lives to help us right now–particularly in the medical field, but also those who keep \”necessary businesses\” open. We appreciate you risking your lives trying to help others. Here in our monastery, we are used to \”staying at home\” and \”sheltering in place\”, but we also pray for all of you who are trying to work from home, and home-school, and everything all together. Please pray for us, too. So far, it seems that the monasteries in the United States and Canada have been spared, but we never know what tomorrow will bring. We just take it one day at a time. And we always remember, whether it\’s Lent or not: media vita in morte sumus est.
(Above: Dominicans of the U.S. Central Province (St. Albert the Great) and Southern Province (St. Martin de Porres) singing the Media vita in Latin)