"Father, why in the world is there a skull on your desk?" Ok, well, it is not a real skull, but I know it really does look real. It sits there (about 3 inches to the right of my computer screen that I am using to write this post on). And, yes, it is "staring" right at me. I frequently glance over at it when I am doing work, and it relays to me a whole host of important spiritual lessons.
I recall the first time in college when I saw a drawing of Desiderius Erasmus in my Medieval and Renaissance Literature class. He had a skull (probably a real one) on his desk. It fascinated me because it was a simple straightforward statement of "death is a reality and you cannot avoid it". This is the idea behind the phrase "memento mori" (which means, "remember, you are mortal").
I am told that this is one of the reasons why some bikers will have a skull somewhere on their motorcycle or clothing while they are riding. Although some may have a different reason, there are a number of them who use it as a reminder to self: "self, you'd better be careful when you're out here, because you can die if you behave like a fool". Should not we all have some kind of reminder like that? "Self, make good choices today; remember, you will eventually have to give account to God".
Yes, someone who is squeemish might have a hard time reviving this ancient practice, but it is a healthy reminder of the fact that each one of us is someday going to die. We are going to look into the face of our creator and either find a Judge or a Savior. Is this how we live our lives? With a view to our coming death? This is not just something that "old people" do, it is something that each of us will benefit from.
Here is a prayer to St. Joseph that accords nicely with this idea:
O Glorious St. Joseph, behold I choose thee today for my special patron in life and at the hour of my death. Preserve and increase in me the spirit of prayer and fervor in the service of God. Remove far from me every kind of sin; obtain for me that my death may not come upon me unawares, but that I may have time to confess my sins sacramentally and to bewail them with a most perfect understanding and a most sincere and perfect contrition, in order that I may breathe forth my soul into the hands of Jesus and Mary. Amen.