The Importance of Mortification - 2021-02-11
"The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes."
- Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2015
Perhaps one of the most undervalued of Christian practices today is that of Mortification. This is the voluntary endurance of discomfort, inconvenience, or privation of certain goods (e.g. fasting) so as to die to the temptations of the flesh and, with a stronger will, be able to better accept God's Grace and reject the devil's temptations to sin.
This all appears to be something very vague, especially for those who aren't religious or are not accustomed to Catholic terminology. What's more, the very term Mortification may appear rather intimidating to some seeing that it derives from the Latin word mortificatio, meaning "death". And in a sense, there is death involved in an act of Mortification, but it is a death to the ego.
So firstly, let's make concrete what are acts of Mortification. These would be acts of enduring some sort of inconvenience, mentally or physically. These usually take the form of abstinence of some sort from something that is not necessarily bad for oneself, but that one may feel a certain bodily or mental craving for. As such, one rejects their body or mind's desires so as to pursue something of greater value. An example of a Mortification of the Flesh (bodily) would be fasting, whereby one abstains from eating for a time. The body will desire food, and throughout the period of fasting, one's resolve to complete the period of fasting may be weakened by temptations throughout the day. But through an act of the will, choosing God's Grace over one's selfish desires provoked by the satan, one may persevere. For Mortification of the Mind, this typically involves mental discipline of doing things we do not want to do. For many, this may be an abstinence from social media, an extra hour of studying, finishing that one thing you've had on your to-do list for ages but have never gotten around to doing, etc.
As for the spiritual fruits, if it was not already obvious, we gain discipline and willpower, both things that are of absolute importance in the Good Fight of the Faith that we battle every day. The question of resisting the evil one's temptations to sin is one of choosing God's Grace over our own selfish desires. Is this not the same will power we train while practicing Mortification? It becomes much easier to say no to the adversary's temptations if we practice; and what better to practice with than abstinence from something that is not sinful in and of itself? If one decides to practice Mortification through fasting, one learns to resist his temptations to eat throughout the day, yet if he fails, he has not fallen into sin as it was simply practice. Mortification is therefore our means of sharpening our swords to fight off the demons we encounter in our lives, showing them neither mercy nor compassion; choosing always Good over Evil, God over the satan, the Good Fight over effeminacy.
I bring this up now because, as any good Catholic will know, the liturgical season of Lent is nearly upon us. During the forty days of Lent we commemorate the forty days which Jesus Christ spent in the desert fasting, suffering the temptations of the evil one. We are called, during this season, to follow in the example of our Lord and practice some kind of Mortification. There are the obligatory fasts on Ash Wednesday (on February 17th) and Good Friday (on April 2nd), as well as an abstinence from eating meat on Fridays during the Lenten season (this custom may vary depending on your location and rite); but we are also called to observe some other form of Mortification to help us in our struggle towards sainthood. So hopefully this article helps you, my dear reader, to both understand the importance of Mortification as well as to choose a Mortification for this Lenten season.
God bless you.