Friday, September 3, 2010

Mortification of the Flesh

Carl Olson has a post about a Daily Mail article. It is an interview with a few Opus Dei women who talk about their practice of using a cilice. That is a device designed to cause pain. It is not masochism but penance. We want to reject the normal human tendency to make choices that minimize our pain and maximize our pleasure. We want to pursue holiness and not be governed by the desires of our flesh. Fasting is the more common way to do that. Mortification is much less accepted. It is very hard for modern western society to understand. In fact, many religious orders that used to require it have stopped in recent years.

If you can understand how suffering such pain will benefit you and possibly those you are praying for then it should make sense. We suffer pain to build our body. Certainly after an injury but also just to get stronger or build up our physical endurance we will do things that hurt. No pain. No gain. But what is the gain? Holiness. So it comes back to the idea that doing penance makes you holy.

I know there are many saints that did this. We read the stories of the saints as a mealtime devotion. The authors try and edit out the mortification part but for many saints that is even hard. Often it is that aspect of their spirituality that is most talked about. So you honestly can't write a short spiritual biography and not mention it. But how do we explain it to the kids? I don't think I completely understand it myself. I get the theory. I just haven't even fasted that much. This is a whole different level.

I do know that many teens have issues with self harm. The psychological roots of that can be complicated. I wonder if that isn't an expression of a deep human desire to do penance for our sins. At some level we want it. We want to make amends for what we have done. Like if you break something you want to pay for it. If you sense that there are temporal consequences to your sin would want to pay for them too. But we don't always have that sense.

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