Wednesday, June 27, 2007

External Mortification

1. The interior mortification of self-love and of our sensual inclinations is not enough. Bodily mortification is also necessary. St. Paul provides the reason. The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. (Gal. 5:17)

Original sin disturbed the perfect harmony which existed between man's body and soul. I see another law in my members, said the Apostle Paul, warring against the law of my mind. (Rom. 7:23) Even when he was caught up to the third heaven, he experienced the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit. (2 Cor. 12:7)

There is no such struggle between the flesh and the spirit in brute animals, which are concerned only with the satisfaction of their sensible appetites. It is because he is endowed with reason and an immortal soul that man experiences this conflict. The result is that either the soul is conquered and becomes the slave of man's lower instincts or the soul is victorious and uses the body as an instrument of virtue.

We can see from this how necessary it is to mortify our bodies so that they will not rebel against the mastery of the soul. Our body will be either the faithful servant or the relentless tyrant of the soul.

Mortification and penance are the only methods of keeping the body under control. I chastise my body, says St. Paul, and bring it into subjection. (1 Cor. 9:27) He cites the example of competitors in the arena who abstain from everything which could prevent them winning. If they are prepared to do this, he adds, in order to gain a perishable crown, we should be even more prepared to abstain from anything which could interfere with us obtaining an everlasting reward. (1 Cor. 25)

Unless you repent, Our Lord had already said, you will all perish. (Luke 13:5) The Saints appreciated the severity of this warning and subjected themselves to incredible mortifications such as lengthy fasts, bloody scourgings, and privation of sleep and personal comforts.

What penances do I perform? Little or none, perhaps? If so, it is not surprising that my body rebels and causes me to fall into sin. We must follow the example of the Saints in this matter if we wish to remain in the state of grace.

2. In the first place, we must accept with resignation from the hands of Christ all the sufferings and humiliations which we encounter during life. Not only should we accept them, but we should offer them to God as a proof of our love. The Saints were happy to suffer for the sake of Jesus; we should at least suffer with resignation in expiation of our sins. This is still not enough, however. They who belong to Christ, St. Paul warns us, have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24) Salvation is impossible without voluntary penance. (Cf. Luke 13:5) It is false piety to insist that we should not treat cruelly the body which God has given us. Such an attitude of indulgence could cause the loss of the soul, which is a far greater treasure. As St. Paul writes, the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)

Suffering voluntarily undertaken for the sake of Jesus purifies the soul and gives us a great peace when we see the body subdued and converted into an instrument for the sanctification of ourselves and of others.

3. Principle: So great is the happiness which is in store for me that it is a pleasure for me to suffer. (St. Francis of Assisi.)