It says, "As you are now, I once was; as I am now, you soon shall be — remember your mortality!"
No better way to approach Ash Wednesday and 40 days of Lent.
Artists have painted St. Jerome with a skull on his desk. Popes were known to keep skulls in their libraries. I now have a real human skull sitting next to me in my home office.
The famous Capuchin Church in Rome has a labyrinth of rooms filled with bone which are not just stacked in piles, but are used to decorate. The lamps are made of human bones, designs on the walls, altars, everything is made of bones of the monks who have died there over the centuries. The sign above the entrance says the same thing the skull pictured above is saying to me.
Are Catholics morbid, obsessed with bones and relics, consumed with the thought of death. Yes and no. We are concerned about these matters, but we are not morbid. We are realistic. We know that life is short and we need to keep things in perspective and our priorities straight.
We also know that life is full of vanities. Much of what vies for our time, energy and money is like a puff of smoke that detracts us from what is really important. Notice the skull to the right, look closely. It is entitled "All is Vanity." If you look closely you can see a picture inside the skull. (You can click on the image for a larger picture.)
I wanted to buy my coffin in advance–one to my liking and made of carved oak–to use as a coffee table in our living room. I wanted it there to remind me that someday my body would spend a lot of time in there–under the ground. But my good wife nixed my plans. She said I could get one to stand upright as a bookshelf, but not to set on the floor looking like a funeral parlor.
My goal is to pour out my life for the Savior in this life and to remind myself every day that from dust I came and to dust I will go. The skull reminds me every moment that "it is appointed for men once to die, and after that the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). I want to be ready.