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 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.

What is the Chocolate Connection with Lent? Nice article here.


This Post Has 7 Comments


    Morbid or not I think you are being very disrepectful to the person (and his/her family) by placing his skull on your desk like some paperweight. Whatever excuse you use does not justify this lack of respect for the deceased and their family. I know I wouldn't want mother's or father's skull sitting on someone's desk. I you want to be reminded of your mortality every single day then don't wash of the ashes off your forehead. Otherwise, just read the obituaries in the newspaper but don't use real human skull like paperweights.

    STEVE RAY HERE: Ashes in place, thanks. The skull is over 100 years old. You may want to postumously reprimand the popes, St. Jerome and all the churches that display skulls as signs of our mortality. No paperweight here my friend, it sits prominently and respecfully on the shelf. Thanks for the concern.

  2. Ray Lawson

    I was listening to an old Web of Faith Season 2 and in discussing a question about creamation both priests believed while creamation is now accepted ashes were to be properly buried as a sign or respect of the ressurection of the body. The idea that some funeral homes sell lockets to contain ashes of their loved one around their neck as a reminder was described as pagan. In the Catholic Register ast week a bishop advised people to avoid the “Bodies” display because he found it disrespectful to the dead to be displayed before the general public.

    Is this pretty much a matter of personal conscience, one person could keep a human skull or perhaps creameated ashes as a reminder of their own mortality in good conscience while someone could sin for not burying human remains for a pagan motive.

    I understand why the church makes relics of saints available for veneration, but wouldn’t the ordinary place for human remains to be buried according to the churches teachings and unburied be the extraordinary? Or is it burial not really a big deal to the human person once you are dead and awaiting your glorified body?

  3. Jefe

    No paperweight maybe, but you are still prising the jaw of what was once a living person like you and I for the purpose of a supposedly humourous picture.


  4. Nicollette

    Mr. Ray,

    I’m surprised that the comments you’ve received on this post are so negative. I like your idea. I purchased a resin skull a while back to sit on my desk as well as I’d have absolutely *no* idea how to acquire a real human skull. (Can I ask how one does that?) I must have gotten the idea from St. Jerome. While some find it creepy I find it quite appropriate and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one around today that does it.

    Have a great day!

  5. cheryl obos

    I find the negative comments about the skull on the desk to be silly and of no substance. Do these same people also find visiting a museum, perhaps one that displays the mummified remains of humans to be offensive as well? I think the use of the skull in this case is appropriate and to the point. We are from dust and shall return to dust. I actually find it rather endearing in a way – after all, it is a human skull-nothing more, and not dressed up in a hat, tattooed, made up with make up, or bashed in from another human’s physical assault. It is just what it is and it makes me think of who I am now, and what I shall be after my physical death.

    I think there are those who feel offended because they can’t handle the very obvious, if not blunt reminder that we are what we are in our human form on this earth. Maybe the truth offends them, not the actual skull itself. And for anyone interested, I went to a store the day after Halloween and bought a cheap resin like skull for $3 in the clearance section. I love it. It sits atop my desk on my computer tower, right next to my Blessed Mother statue-reminding me who I am and who SHE is and who God is.

  6. Alex Banuelos

    Dear Steve Ray.. How the h..l did you get a skull?

  7. Zane Wylie


    Is the skull for sale or do you have more?

    Cheers, Zane

    STEVE RAY HERE. Mine is for sale but you have to wait until I die 🙂

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