Is it a sin to hurt yourself while praying? For example, sometimes as I am deep in prayer within my rosary, I start to lose focus, so I will pull my hair, or push down hard on my knees, or hold myself in some uncomfortable position, so that I may suffer more, and be more attentive. I have confessed this quite a few times, but I still seem to do it. There have been times where I think the devil or his evil spirits are putting bad thoughts into my head while praying, so I have banged my forehead hard against my table and blessed myself with holy water, as to not give them what they want. I am not crazy, but just very devoted to prayer and suffering. So Is it okay to hurt yourself while praying? Why was it okay when the saints did it? Is it wrong to imitate the saints in this way? thank you and God bless!
No. I’d say it’s no different from fasting. I mean a guy hurts himself when he does that right? So a bit of physical pain is nothing but a short reminder of what can happen to a soul off course. So no. I don’t think it’s a sin. Just don’t teach or expect others to do it too and you should be good.
I think you should take on these kinds of actions only with the approval of your spiritual director. Seek prudent guidance from your spiritual director before inflicting bodily harm on yourself. There is a difference between “harming yourself” (banging your head as in your post) and offering penances. Your spiritual director should be helping you discern if this is God’s movement in your life. God bless you.
It would be somewhat presumptuous, IMO, to simply imitate a Saint in all particulars, as if to assume that one has the level of sanctifying grace that they had. St. Catherine of Siena, for example, dictated to scribes during her ecstasies. Well, that doesn’t mean that I should sit in church one day, and start taking notes on what I think that God the Father is saying to me, and treating such notes as if they were private revelation. Saints should be imitated insofar as their development of virtue is concerned, and their insights into the spiritual life and into theology should be taken quite seriously. But that doesn’t mean that everything that they did should be perfectly aped. Just to offer another example: the fact that many Saints were priests or religious should not mean that we are all called to that particular vocation.
Furthermore, Saints often had spiritual directors to whom they were obedient, and who prescribed or allowed some of the more extreme penances that such Saints performed. Without the insight of a spiritual director, we should not go overboard or bite off more than we can chew. To do such things alone would, in point of fact, be contrary to the spirit with which such Saints went about their spiritual lives.
Edit to add: I should also mention that praying well is the result of habit, and habits are formed by consistently practicing them over long periods of time. Banging your head might not be the solution you think it is. Spending several more years developing your prayer might just do the trick.
Don’t be like those who think that they can only pray well if they’re kneeling, and who then only think about the discomfort they’re in while they should be focused on God.
**Minor **physical penances–discomfort rather than pain–are *generally *ok *for *penances; *however, *all the advice I have heard in spiritual writings regarding distraction in prayer are to treat the distraction *gently, *not severely.
The way I see prayer is that it is like learning a musical instrument. No one likes a piano teacher who hits the student’s fingers with a ruler for each mistake, esp while the child is still learning! What we do in prayer is to train the mind to pay attention. This involves practice: we practice paying attention in prayer. When we find that our mind has wandered, we pull it back gently. If we are having a really hard time doing that, we pray for help against the distractions. We keep practicing and then we get better at it.
Also, with everything they are finding out about brain injuries resulting from heads being banged in sports, I would say one should never bang one’s head on purpose, and avoid it accidentally.
It is indeed good for us to imitate the saints; *however, *soke of the things saints did were due to their great holiness. I would not go out and run a marathon, even if I wanted to imitate a great runner, because I am not a great runner. I would imitate the great runner when he was just beginning, because I am at the beginning. Saints and great runners and renowned musicians all had “coaches;” I think that finding a spiritual director should be your next step.
Remember, Saints did it before they where Saints - itwas part of what brought them to Sainthood. You aren’t imitating a saintly act, your trying to focus your attention…causing pain. If you started causing permenant injuries that would be a different story.