The What and Why of Mortification
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The best description of mortification was given by Our Lord. He said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24).
Mortification, therefore, is self-denial. And self-denial is doing the will of God, even when the Divine will crosses at right angles to our will. Mortification is the imitation of Christ in the surrender of what we naturally like in order to please God.
Self-Denial to Make Up for Past Sins
There is one big difference, however, between our mortification and the self-denial that Christ practiced in doing the will of His Father. We are sinners who must practice mortification to make up in greater generosity to God for our failure to love Him as we should have in the past. We are sinners who must expiate our sinful self-indulgence by giving up creatures we might otherwise lawfully enjoy.
More than Important
Mortification is not only important, it is necessary. Why?
Because only mortified persons are willing to surrender to God the most precious possession they have, namely their own self-will.
Only mortified persons are willing to love God in the patient endurance of whatever crosses He sends them.
Only mortified persons are living in the real world where sins are so widespread and where sinners need the grace of repentance to be gained by the prayerful penance of the friends of God.
Patience and Faithfulness
We can practice mortification by giving up some delicacy in food or drink, or some pleasure that we could legitimately have. But we also practice mortification every time we patiently accept whatever trial or pain He sends us, and every time we faithfully carry out whatever His mysterious providence commands of us.
It is this second kind of mortification that Jesus had in mind when He told us that “anyone who loses his life for my sake, will find it” (Mat. 16:25).
The Key to Heaven
If we are willing to mortify (literally “cause death to”) our self-will in this world, we shall gain eternal life in the world to come. On these terms, only mortified people will enter Heaven.
Used with permission from Inter Mirifica.
Introduction to Fasting and Abstinence
by Real Presence Renewal
Fasting is an exterior mortification that all Catholics are called to practice regularly. We should be familiar with the fasting and abstinence that the Church requires of us on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as well as the abstinence required of us on Fridays during Lent. We should also be familiar with the Eucharistic fast that we are all required to observe. Per Canon 919, “One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.” In times past, fasting and abstinence were more regularly required throughout the liturgical year. Not long ago, abstinence was required on every Friday and fasting was prescribed on many more days than we see today including the entirety of Lent with the exception of Sundays. We have lost touch with this deeply efficacious mortification.
Saint Augustine helps us to understand the power of this ancient discipline.
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity.”
We hear from Saint Augustine that fasting helps us to raise our minds to God during prayer. Aided by fasting, the fog of distraction and dissipation gives way to clarity as we lovingly converse with our Lord. We are better able to receive the abundant illumination and grace that He wants to give us, and we please Him by our self-denial. We see, then, that fasting and mental prayer go hand in hand.
Fasting today consists of eating one full meal and two smaller meals that together are not larger than the full meal. This means no snacking or grazing across the day. Abstinence consists of not eating flesh meat. During this spiritual exercise we have committed to both fasting and abstinence every Friday. Jesus abases himself, making Himself helpless and defenseless in the Holy Eucharist. We should offer this sacrifice of fasting to our Eucharistic Lord every Friday in reparation for the widespread sacrilege and sins committed against Him in the Blessed Sacrament. If our health does not allow us to fast from food, we can easily deny ourselves a few other great pleasures to accomplish the same end.