Grace and Peace to all of you. I have been a Catholic for nearly 30 years and am still learning more about my faith. However, I am troubled by the practices of extreme mortification–whipping oneself, starving, wearing hair shirts, not bathing, in fact some very gruesome practices that I have read some of the saints subjected themselves to. All this seems to point to St. Paul’s saying that we have to somehow “make up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.” I do not understand how anyone could have suffered more than what Christ did on the Cross, and how any one of us could possibly make up for that. Also, that seems to contradict what our Lord said about being joyful. Jesus enjoyed life, after all, he changed water into wine at Cana and ate and drank with His disciples. I belong to a parish in which we enjoy festivals, dancing, yes, even Bingo games…not that we don’t observe fasting and penance when necessary. I guess the bottom line is that I do not understand why God made good things–not only food and drink, but the beauty of nature, the companionship of our fellows, even perfumes and cosmetics, if we are not meant to enjoy them as long as it is in the proper manner. For example, I recently had an air conditioner installed in my third-floor apartment as the older I get the less I can tolerate the heat. Now that I am comfortable, I feel guilty. But I have more energy now to devote to helping others because I am not exhausted with sweating. That is just one example. Maybe someone else can help, because this really bothers me.
(will I suffer in Hell because I have gotten a cooling system for this earthly life?)


You should read Thomas Merton’s “No Man Is An Island” because he pretty much condemns these outrageous acts of asceticism and mortification. So, does the Church universal stand by the practice of mortification? No, it doesn’t.

Why mortification, then? For a few people, especially people who are properly disposed, it is a way of training the spirit to recognize that both pleasure and pain is transient, fleeting, and that we shouldn’t become too attached to the things of this world. You’re right in saying that God has no problem allowing to enjoy his creation, but if we enjoy it *so much *that we deny “our share” to others, or become greedy, lustful, etc. then it seems fairly evident that we need to distance ourselves from that which is causing us to stumble.

So, no, you don’t have to live like St. Gemma who punched holes in her soup spoon; or be like many of the Desert Fathers who subsisted on Communion only; or even wear a hair shirt during Lent. However, you’ll discover that, as you grow closer to Christ, you’ll willing make sacrifices of your time, your goods, your comfort, etc. for the love of others, and these acts of mortification are being practiced by us all in our daily lives, sometimes unnoticeably. It’s what St. Therese considered to be her Little Way, or, as St. Francis once said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”


Yes, mortification can get quite over the top, and I think it should never be undertaken without the permission of one’s confessor/spiritual director, who will want a very good reason why you’re doing it. Also, to everything there is a season. I think it is good to feast and be joyful at appropriate times. For example, if I choose to fast, I don’t fast on Sundays or holy days, because it wouldn’t be appropriate.

I don’t think you’re going to hell because you have an air conditioner, and I’m not going to hell because I got a new Blackberry. Austerity and mortification are not prerequisites for Heaven, but excess and attachment to earthly things will certainly keep you out. Pray, pray, pray, and keep your eyes on the prize, but don’t worry about hair shirts or air conditioners unless your spiritual director tells you otherwise.



Christianity is itself about acquiring a spirit of mortification and self denials so that we both do penance, suffer with Christ and acquire merit, and achieve victory over the body and the passions.

You can buy an air conditioner. You can be comfortable. But you should be able to abstain at times from many things and undergo their opposites. Each person is suited to different mortifications.

I understand why people feel hesitant and tenative… afraid… it’s understandable… yet…

You shouldn’t be weak minded about it, nor find them upsetting. It is a joy to bear the cross. Christianity is not about embracing comforts of home, it’s about the cross and the joy of it. :slight_smile:

Our happiness is not in this life, it is in the next.

Some people only have to do the smallest mortifications… others do more…

My general thought of possibilities for a beginner in mortification is simply eat things you do not like to eat, instead hate, wear perhaps a shirt that is coarser than you like, and be like the sinner striking his breast, saying, "Lord have mercy’ only strike a little harder till there’s pain so you wake up your heart to bear its sufferings with Christ. :slight_smile:

We Catholics are not so effeminate as to not realize that there is great good in overcoming our desire to live always comfortably and painlessly.

Opus Dei I believe still uses the cilice.

If God calls you to greater mortification you should remember the examples of the saints – but remember also always to do it with a proper spirit.

God is not against physical pain for the sake of the kingdom, the very opposite, through penance we can uplift the world. :slight_smile: Worldly people run away from this, and give us worldly wisdom about how we should never do anything painful or act as if beginners will suddenly take on what the saints did… Certainly we must be sensible and prudent, but not in a worldly way which fears all discomfort. :slight_smile:

Boxers go into the ring, and come out and have to recuperate for a month… Runners strain themselves to exhaustion, suffering sprains and bruises… People in the world endure all kinds of pains and difficulties and risks for worldly pleasures and causes… but suggest doing it for God?

What then do you hear? :slight_smile:

‘You must practice, at one and the same time, interior and exterior mortification; but with this difference, that you must give yourself up to the first particularly, always, and without exception; to the second, on the contrary, only as far as circumstances and the particular condition of persons and occasions will permit.’

St. Ignatius of Loyola

‘Oh, how I like those little mortifications that are seen by nobody, such as rising a quarter of an hour sooner, rising for a little while in the night to pray!’

St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

‘The reason for which it is necessary for the soul, in order to attain to Divine union with God, to pass through this dark night of mortification of the desires and denial of pleasures in all things, is because all the affections which it has for creatures are pure darkness in the eyes of God, and, when the soul is clothed in these affections, it has no capacity for being enlightened and possessed by the pure and simple light of God, if it first cast them not from it; for light cannot agree with darkness; since, as Saint John says: Tenebroe eam non comprehenderunt. That is: The darkness could not receive the light.’

St. John of the Cross

‘By denying our self-love and our inclinations in little things, we gradually acquire mortification and victory over ourselves.’

‘It often happens that when we take less care of our body, we have better health than when we bestow upon it too much care.’

St. Teresa of Jesus

‘That great saint, St. Charles Borromeo, had in his apartment a fine cardinal’s bed, which everybody saw; but, besides that, there was one which nobody could see, made of bundles of wood; and that was the one he made use of. He never warmed himself; when people came to see him, they remarked that he placed himself so as not to feel the fire. That is what the saints were like. They lived for heaven and not for earth: they were all heavenly; and as for us, we are all earthly.’

St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars


There is no need for you to feel guilty over the air conditioner or to fear going to hell over it. Like you said, now you have more energy to devote to helping others. Self-sacrificial giving is much greater than delf-denial. We just learned that at our OCDS meeting today.


I don’t think that mortification is wrong… as long as it’s done under the guidance of a spiritual director (otherwise, it can lead to pride.) I know that sometimes what these Saints did might seem over the top or excessive, but their motivation was love for God.

I think that it’s not for everyone, and if corporal mortification disturbs you, there’s always spiritual mortification, which is actually usually more effective :slight_smile: (it’s basically ‘dying to self’… repaying good for evil, loving your enemies, not replying when someone accuses you, being patient when you don’t feel like it, etc.)

as for “making up for what is lacking” in Christ’s sacrifice. What I think St Paul meant here is that our participation is lacking. Christ’s sacrifice was perfect… but we should share in the Cross. He did say, we should pick up our own crosses and carry them… life offers plenty of crosses but some people like these Saints wanted even more, so they practiced mortification. They were also trying to die to the flesh and the ‘passions’. (this is also why people fast…)

as for being joyful, I agree that God wants us to be joyful, but when I read about these Saints, I think that they were :slight_smile: even with all the suffering… they had a joy that comes from knowing and following Christ. And that is greater than anything the world can give us.

But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying simple things like music or nature or poetry or food that you like… the problem arises when we become too attached to these things. In other words, the problem is in us, and in our not loving God first; not in the things themselves.

I wouldn’t worry about the air conditioner… :slight_smile:

that’s just my opinion… :slight_smile:

God bless


Opus Dei I believe still uses the cilice.

I’ve heard this too…


But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying simple things like music or nature or poetry or food that you like… the problem arises when we become too attached to these things. In other words, the problem is in us, and in our not loving God first; not in the things themselves.

This is very true. These things are often necessary. :slight_smile: And yet normally we are too attached without knowing it.

On Sensus Traditionis below there are two talks on ‘the Horror of Suffering’ (#6 & #8) . . No not how horrible suffering is, but the psychological and spiritual defect of being horrified at the thought of suffering. Very informative. :slight_smile:


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