Mortification is Essential by Fr. James Farfaglia
Catholicism is not for soft people. Jesus told us to take up our cross. He did not tell us to take up our Teddy Bear. Mortification is an essential part of the spiritual life. “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires” (Galatians 5: 24).
The practice of mortification is the way to get rid of our vices and replace them with virtue. Mortification is an act of abnegation or self-denial. Mortification implies detachment and renunciation. It also implies the continual struggle against the evil tendencies of fallen human nature in an effort to curb and eliminate their influence.
As I wrote in my book Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life, the battle never ends until we are dead. The practice of mortification demands a conscious and willful renewal every day of our lives. The struggle may be more or less intense during the different stages of our life journey. Although we may have to deal with different issues, the struggle will always be present. If we want to save our souls, an intense, conscious and dramatic struggle is necessary.
Let us consider briefly some of our most common struggles and the mortification that needs to take place in order that Jesus may take full possession of our lives.
Pride is at the top of the list of the seven deadly sins. Pride is an ugly sin and it must be dealt with seriously and energetically. This sin will be uprooted by replacing it with the virtue of humility. Repeated concrete acts of humility will continue to hammer away at this sin. Obedience to the Magisterium of the Church, flexibility at home and at work, being a team player and openness with your parish priest are all practical ways to gain the virtue of humility.
Greed is another sin that causes many problems. Excellent acts of mortification include establishing a budget, practice the Biblical teaching of tithing, eliminate your debt, limit the use of credit cards, live within your means, and be content with what you already have.
Gluttony is a very addictive sin. If we can control our eating habits and our spending habits, we will then have a greater ability to live the virtue of chastity. Gluttony needs to be mortified by a strict spirit of self-control. Acts of mortification include not snacking between meals, eating smaller portions, eating healthy foods, saving deserts for Sundays and special feast days, and exercising moderation in the use of alcoholic beverages.
Laziness is also a very controlling sin. The lazy person is not so much concerned about the bad that he does, but the good that is left undone. The lazy person has to form and strengthen his will. Getting up on time in the morning, making your bed, cleaning your room, doing your duty with perfection, using your time well, regular physical exercise and personal discipline are very important acts of mortification that will successfully uproot the sin of laziness and replace it with the virtue of diligence.
Lust is another big struggle, if not the biggest for most people. Of all of the sins that have been mentioned thus far, this one is the most addictive. Lust must be dealt with severely. This is something that we cannot fool around with. The best weapon against lust is to run away from the occasions of sin. When we accept our weakness, we will not put ourselves into dangerous situations. If the cable is a problem, then get rid of it. There are a number of pornography free Internet servers that can be used. Living a moral life, modesty in dress, control of our eyes, avoiding sensual movies and television programs, and staying away from dangerous friends are some of the things that we can do to replace lust with the virtue of chastity.
Of course, all of these acts of mortification that I have mentioned presuppose a mature spiritual life. Self-knowledge, a serious battle plan, and the regular use of the Sacrament of Confession are also indispensable tools for spiritual growth and development. Remember, the goal of our spiritual life is to become a new person in Christ. It is not enough just to be a “good person” or to be “nice”. We are called to be saints.