Thoughts on Mortifications (all Sinead’s fault)

Because Sinead wrote in the combox:

Ok Laura, I’ll bite. I loved the post but I want you to write a post for me on mortifications, voluntary that is, not what you feel when you trip up in the street and everyone laughs. 😀
How do they work?

How can I resist?

Actually, I’ve been thinking of this, along with Purgatory, this week. The two seem to go together.

Mortification, root word “Mors” or “mortis,” Latin for death, die, etc. To mortify is, literally, to put to death –

In this particular application, the ego, or self-will: the very same source of those attachments we have to be purged of before we can fully enter into God’s presence.

I was about to say that some mortifications just come to us – like sickness, disappointments, etc., but that’s not quite true; how we handle life difficulties matters. When we fight, complain, rail against, whine, and make a general stink about our sufferings, then we aren’t putting self-will to death at all, are we? Seems to me we’re demanding self-satisfaction, our own way, treating our personal happiness as some sort of indisputable birthright and how dare God interfere by denying us that right!

When we are tested in ordinary ways (like the mom at the school this afternoon, who was put out with me because I wouldn’t release the girl from school on the strength of a telephone call), we have a choice. I prefer to be treated with a little more courtesy, and believe me – I was sorely tempted to inform this mother that lack of planning on her part did not constitute an emergency on my part. I wish with all my heart (six hours later) that I had been more gracious than I was, that I had let the woman’s annoyance bounce off me; I did apologize and explain my position nicely, I think, but I seethed about the situation for too long afterward.

If I’d been meeker, if I’d been more patient, more gracious – not annoyed (or at least reminded myself that I had a choice not to be so put out) – then this incident could have served as a very useful mortification for my ego, my pride.

Being cheerful when I’m tired and cross and can’t breathe because of a stuffy nose (I think I licked the threatened sinus infection) – that’s a mortification.

Not fighting back when I’m treated like an incompetent when in fact I was misinformed about a procedure (set up?) – a mortification.

Accepting criticism graciously – when it is not deserved, or more difficult, when it is – a mortification.

Acceptance – of disappointments, of sorrows, of sufferings of body and emotions – not fighting to force our own way, nor demanding sympathy and attention from others – a valuable mortification.

We can also undertake voluntary mortifications to discipline our pride and self-centeredness.

I love chocolate, and during stressful days at the high school, a candy bar and a Coke feel like an entitled reward. This week – I’ve done without. It’s a small mortification, one I’ve not even really felt.

There are pleasures the world tells us are natural, normal, harmless… but they distract us from full discipleship. Some novels, television programs, movies, music appeal to a more base and carnal element in our characters. Avoiding them even though we enjoy them is a very useful mortification – we are mortifying, putting to death, our love of the mediocre, banal, and salacious.

Denying ourselves luxuries – more clothes than we really need, or multiple bottles of cosmetics and potions when what we already possess is more than adequate for our needs – other things we feel we are supposed to be entitled to as Americans (or Europeans) – a very useful mortification.

Giving of our selves and our resources when it is inconvenient – denying our love of consolations and comforts and luxuries that are not essential to health or safety or genuine well-being…

Being pleasant and doing my duty to people I don’t like and would rather avoid – a mortification!

There are stories of saints who slept on boards for a bed, without a mattress, mortifying their love of physical comfort to identify with the truly deprived – who fasted and undertook disciplines in order to tame what St. Francis humorously called “brother ass” (the flesh) – Some even added deliberate discomforts – the wearing of hair shirts (itchy!) or the discipline of flagellation, personal penances, and the like –

I don’t advocate wearing hair shirts. I worry about people who have poor sense of self-esteem confusing self-loathing with self-denial and so teeter into deeper emotional instability with religious-guised excesses. I distrust people who boast about their devotions and their acts of charity and service. Mortifications should be quiet, discreet. They should be something we can reasonably fulfill – not great overwhelming mountains to boast of trying to scale.

I think we start small, like my silly little candy bars, or resolving within our minds to treat that difficult person with a softer, gentler voice than we usually do (and to try to tame the indignation that wells up on the inside). God will show us – Our Lady will show us! She wants us to draw closer to her Son, and we attain that greater intimacy with Him by death to self.

It’s a process. We fail, only to try again. Ego is a resilient beast, hard to train. But we keep on trying.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mortifications (all Sinead’s fault)

  1. Okay, I “think” I’ve got it. But, we shouldn’t be doormats, either, right?.

    Not making any excuses for bad or truly ugly behavior, our personalities (such as worrying about something for hours or playing a scene over and over in your head) probably won’t change. Here I am, telling you the student in such things! 🙂

    Do I have it? If not, email me, please. Also, I’ll finish the sewing stuff soon.

  2. Packrat – you hit on a tricky subject, because it can be hard to know when we’re being neurotic and taking offense where none is warranted, and genuine detachment that refuses to enable unhealthy, toxic behaviors in someone close to us.

    Yeah – I think refusing to be a doormat to a toxic person is actually performing an act of kindness. We don’t enable the drunk in his drunken binge, for instance; we set boundaries in order to give the drunk room to hit bottom, sober up and grow up.

    Is that the sort of thing you’ve got in mind? I can post more… 😉

  3. Thanks Laura! That was brilliant! “not fighting to force our own way, nor demanding sympathy and attention from others – a valuable mortification.” This is the one for me, I find it really difficult. I wonder how one balances that with the urge to hide away with low self-esteem?….

    Also how does one offer up these petits morts for the souls in Purgatory? What’s the ritual, what are we supposed to say to God in order to make it count to help them?


  4. Happy Second Sunday of Advent, Sinead! Thanks for the praise – I’m grateful it was useful. You made me think about things I’ve not deliberated, before – and it was way overdue.

    As for offering up things for the souls in Purgatory, I don’t know whether there is a “formula” – whatever my intention, I just murmer it as I do whatever, and trust Divine Mercy to apply appropriately. That might be the lazy way, of course, but I’m contented with it.

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