Hardly anyone today believes in sacrifices or mortification to be able to do God’s will and obtain His gift of Heaven. The concept of denying oneself of pleasures is a repulsive thought to our instant gratification culture. Yet when you read any one of the lives of the saints, you see they did all sorts of sacrifices and mortifications. Many would do what is called “the discipline”, which comprised of whipping themselves.
In our self-indulgent society, that seems repulsive. I have read many Catholic books and magazine articles, where the modern authors have judged these saints as being psychotic and masochistic. One of these saints, and the most famous, was St. Francis of Assisi. We see his statue in many gardens, but the idea of him having fasted and beaten himself is absurd to the modern mind. Yet look at the miracles that he and all these saints did during their lives and after.
When we give in to our bodily desires, we end up being “under the yoke of bondage”. We become slaves to our passions. The more our society, our Church, becomes permissive, the more we find ourselves becoming addicts. Indulging in carnal pleasures does not lead to freedom and happiness, but to enslavement and depression.
In the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul clearly shows that the fruits of the flesh are contrary to the fruits of the Spirit.
“For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.”
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences.” Galatians 5: 17-24.
The traditional Catholic word of “mortification” means putting to death (mort) our past life of sin and rising to a new life, by God’s grace and self discipline. Jesus died to this mortal life to rise to immortal life. “If you live after the flesh, you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.” Romans 8: 13.
Christian discipline does not destroy us, but restores us. It elevates our human nature to that of sons and daughters of God. It kills the mortal disease of our souls (sin) and invigorates it with new life with the energy of the Holy Spirit.
All of us, even if we are not giving into the lures of flesh, are tempted. In resisting these temptations, rather than indulging in them, we grow stronger in will power. Also, by small and large sacrifices, we discipline our will to want what is good and holy and to reject what is not. Then we start to see clearer (with our intellect) that what our faith asks of us, is good and to be willed for. We now begin to will what is eternally good, rather than the temporally pleasing end. We begin to gratify the soul and not the senses (the belly).
Mortification helps us develop good habits and suppress bad ones. This is not done to obtain a natural good, like having a slim body, but for obtaining the soul’s spiritual good. And the more we conform our will to that of God, the more we please Him. Then He listens to our prayers, that have become less self-centered and more God and other centered, and we get our prayers answered.
External mortification (self-inflicted), such as fasting, silence, hard bed and the abstaining from lawful pleasures, are good and helpful to our souls. But traditional spiritual writers emphasis even more the importance of internal mortification like rooting out pride and self-love. And along with this can be the acceptance of our suffering that comes along with our state in life. With the help of God, and the example of Jesus and the saints, we can learn how to put to death the constant demands our flesh is making on us (food, sweets, comfort, sex and rest), to be more redly to obey God and do good for others.
Padre Pro praying before he is sacrificed (martyred) for Cristo Rey.
One way we traditional Catholics can mortify ourselves is to make the sacrifice of going to the Latin Mass even when it is far away and we have to get up early. All the kneeling you do in the Latin Mass is another form of sacrifice. Offering up all the terrible news about the destruction of Catholic liturgy and morals (inside and outside the Church) can be another form of sacrifice. Loving and forgiving the people in the Church, in our family, our friends, who persecute us for trying to maintain truth and modesty, is another way of sacrificing.
Traditional or not traditional, we all have the daily problems and annoyances we can offer up with love. We can offer these up (without complaining), for the salvation of souls (and most important of all, for our own soul’s salvation).
Sacrifices, added to our prayers, are very very effective in bring about God’s blessings and quick action. So as we pray for the restoration of Catholic tradition and true doctrine, we make small or big sacrifices with love and faith that God is listening and working powerfully for us.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.