Last Sunday we dwelt on the necessity of prayer in our spiritual life. Today we shall discuss about mortification. In our world today, we are surrounded with myriad of means to celebrate, enjoy, derive satisfaction and seek pleasure in the highest degree. The mass media and social networks aggravate the mode in us and therefore fosters an enticement to rampant consumption and enjoyment as a fruit of our economy, technology and social lifestyle. Sometimes, the foregoing has led us to become engrossed in hedonistic lifestyle. With this lifestyle in vogue, it has become obviously difficult to appreciate concepts like sacrifice, self-discipline or self-control, asceticism, self – denial and renunciation. Worse still, we don’t want to hear of pains, suffering, failures and disappointments let alone crosses. Mortification is a subject that is not very popular today and perhaps it has always been a topic we shy away from. Listen to the Master of the spiritual life “Whoever will come after me let him deny himself” (Matt. 16:24). Accordingly the wisdom of the Saints, says that there are “two feet upon which one walks to perfection … mortification and love of God. The latter is the right, the former the left foot.”
Mortification “is self-discipline in order to love God and others for the sake of God.” It means denying ourselves something in order to be and to do something more worthwhile. It is giving up anything that hinders or diminishes our personal friendship with Christ and our spiritual life. It also points to a denying of oneself lawful pleasure in order to check ones flesh (corrupt nature) and general conduct. According to St. Bernard, the vileness of our origin (we were conceived with original sin) and the dishonours of our present state (now we still commit sin) calls for mortification. Otherwise we may see ourselves been ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of our nature. Therefore, St. Vincent de Paul states, “He who allows himself to be ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of his nature, deserves to be called a beast rather than a man.”
We need to give some simple and concrete examples to illustrate what we are talking about. For instance we have discussed about the subject – matter of prayer, its necessity and values, whether it is personal, group, and community or affective and liturgical, we need a sense of discipline to attend to it. We live in a world that is activity oriented, consequently, we need to occasionally withdraw from such activities (like browsing the internet, watching television, playing, touring, visiting, eating and drinking, extensive conversations, and engagements in economic activities, just to mention a few) in order to attend to the needs of the spiritual life like prayer. If we do so we respect the gift and sense of mortification.
Being mortified means being ruthless in giving time for the personal prayer of friendship with Jesus, or with Mary our Mother or to the Angels and Saints. We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist but how often do we actually visit Him to thank Him for the gift of Himself in the Blessed Sacrament or to ask for the graces we need? To this end, being mortified means going out of our way to be with the Lord in the Eucharist or during Liturgical seasons like Lent, fasting, going to daily Mass and frequenting Holy Communion may involve all kinds of little and big acts of self-denial. We know that through grace the Blessed Trinity dwells within us and yet how often do we practice the Presence of God during an average day? This too requires self-discipline. The same is true about maintaining a healthy sexuality. That means we need to check sexual fantasies, harassments, enticement, and promiscuity. We need to censor the type of movies we watch, regulate the quantity of alcohol we consume, assess the kind of friends we make, keep and associate with, evaluate the conversation we engage in and examine our clothing. If the foregoing points are taken into consideration, then we are mortifying ourselves as spiritual persons.
Furthermore, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, counsels on how to guard the senses by applying the principle of courtesy of the senses. He says, “To live a serious interior life…it is necessary to prevent the outside world from entering the soul and filling it with distractions and noise; it is necessary, therefore, to guard its doors assiduously.” This being so, we have to screen what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. That degree of mortification is not principally meant for those in cloisters because we all need a holistic concentration on seeking God and His will. The truth is this; whatever will retard our relationship with God is to be done away with! Accordingly, Jesus instructs, “…if your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:20ff). If we do so we respect the gift and sense of mortification.
Again, mortification strengthens the will to always say yes to God and cultivate litany of virtues such as faith, hope and love and then prayer, fidelity, and perseverance. All these define the spirituality of spiritual persons. Do not forget that “We are spiritual persons making a human journey” and mortification is to empower our will to say no to all vices which are against our spiritual persons and spiritual life. Hence, “Mortification … involves the overcoming of laziness, moods and selfish attitudes.”
At this juncture, it is reasonable to rest our persuasions on the person of Christ and His spirit of mortification. The Legion of Mary Handbook excellently encapsulates a treasured teaching which we hold in a high esteem and it is worth quoting, “If Christ the Head suffered on account of our sins, it is only right that we should be in solidarity with him; if Christ the innocent one paid for us the guilty, surely we the guilty have to do something ourselves. Every fresh evidence of sin inspires generous Christians to make positive acts of reparation.” There is no gainsaying that the whole spiritual lifestyle gives us a valuable training in mortification and the opportunity to embark on reparation for our sins and those of the world. It becomes completely clear that there is need to fast, abstain from some lawful pleasure, do penance and apply moderation in all we do.
God bless you and Happy Sunday! Fr. John-Mary Atep