Self injury as Asceticism, Mortification, Penance?


#1

I have been recently studying the life of a 17th Century Catholic of some renown. In my studies, I have discovered that she would often perform severe “penances.” These penances/ascetics/motifications (not sure which term is the most appropriate) seemed to be her own idea (rather than, say, a penance given by a confessor), and included such things as sleeping on a bed of thorns and burning herself with hot coals.

This is something that you don’t see anymore. In fact, seeing that it made such an impression with her peers and the local clergy, I doubt that it was seen much in those days, either.

My question: is such a thing still permissable with the modern rules of the church? I’ve looked in my CCC for guidance, and I can’t find anything to indicate that such actions would be against the teachings of the church. Something instictively tells me that it’s wrong, but I think that just might be the result of years of exposure to Baptist doctrine, where respect of the body is held in very high esteem.


#2

actually it is still done today (in a less extreme form) by celibate members of Opus Dei. There might be other orders that do it as well - but this kind of thing tends to be kept secret.

I don’t think it’s a good idea at all and you are correct to have misgivings about it. It is disrespectful of our bodies. I also have a hard time understanding how inflicting pain on oneself makes one more holy. It is one thing to sacrifice something, like a favorite food or an hour of sleep, and “offer up” the pain that comes with - for the pain is not the intended goal, something else is (more prayer time, less attachment to material things, etc). It is also another thing to offer up and bear cheerfully pains which come to us in daily life. But to intentionally cause pain?? Uh, no. If someone feels they aren’t “suffering” enough and their life is too cozy and comfortable, then they should get up off their rear and help other people who aren’t so lucky. Jesus said “you saw me hungry and gave me food” not “you thought of me and burned yourself with coal”


#3

St. Margaret Mary use exteme Mortification like those you described and I was shocked by them when I read about them in her autobiography why did people do such things to themselves?


#4

[quote=starrs0]St. Margaret Mary use exteme Mortification like those you described and I was shocked by them when I read about them in her autobiography why did people do such things to themselves?
[/quote]

In the Philipines during Lent, some people(some of them women) would have themselves literally nailed on crosses under the heat of the midday sun as a form of penance for their sins, and some perform this extreme ritual when asking for God’s favor, and many of them do this year after year as a vow. This is frowned upon and discouraged by the Church yet is still practiced in some rural towns.

Gerry


#5

Though I respect that Saints did this…I for one am turned off by whipping the very thing God himself clothed me in.

In some mystical diaries of Saints, I have even read Jesus, admonishing a Saint (not to stop altogether mind you) but that she was doing it too much and too often…that he would rather have that extra time being spent in prayer then “extreme” mortification.

Prayer is enough for me…if I fall, I’ll pray some more. No self flaggelation for this kid.


#6

I should think that anything form of ‘penance’ that does permanent damage to the body would be discouraged by the Church. Penance is meant to strengthen us against sin, but injury only weakens us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Penance is an action that is supposed to “clean house”, so-to-speak. But extreme mortification seems to me to be like cleaning house with a jackhammer.


#7

Never perform extreme mortification except under explicit approval of a spiritual director.


#8

[size=2]Never perform extreme mortification except under explicit approval of a spiritual director. This is amazingly logical advice. My only comment is that, from what I understand, her confessors found her behavior to be extreme. That leads me to believe that she didn’t have anyone’s approval, and yet she’s beatified and awaiting canonization.
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#9

Dear friends

St Therese of Liseux also perfomred mortifications , she wore under her clothes next to her skin a cross made of nails, that pressed to the flesh on her back.

The only logical equation I can draw is with a person who self harms…the pain of trauma in their life is relieved by harming there bodies as well as it being an expression and visible symbol of their pain and suffering. In the case of Saints and people who cause harm to their bodies as mortifications, this is an expression of their sins, their sorrow for their sins and an acceptance of punishment , to be led into greater grace, to make a share in the sufferings of Christ…

Well to me it scared the hell out of me :bigyikes: and I find it a little repulsive…I won’t be beating myself or harming myself in any way…I figure nature and age will do a very good job of ravaging my body and finally the final mortification will be death of the body.

Maybe I am too squeamish and a quite a bit of a yellow belly, but I can’t see how harming yourself is pleasing to God:confused:

God Bless you and much love and peace to you

Teresa


#10

It is amazing that people can endure enormously painful medically uneccessary cosmetic surgery, binge/purge diets, ripping out body hair by the roots, all in the name of bodily beauty, and yet be appalled when someone does corporal mortification for spiritual reasons.

The thing to remember about asceticism is that the practitioner is giving up something good and legitimate for a higher good. In corporal mortification the good is personal comfort. If one does it out of some hostility toward pleasure or matter, or permenantly mutilates the body, it would be a type of gnosticism and illegitimate. This is why it needs to be down under the guidance of a spiritual director.

Scott


#11

[quote=Scott Waddell]It is amazing that people can endure enormously painful medically uneccessary cosmetic surgery, binge/purge diets, ripping out body hair by the roots, all in the name of bodily beauty, and yet be appalled when someone does corporal mortification for spiritual reasons.
[/quote]

I am not, however, one of those persons. :slight_smile:

[quote=Scott Waddell] The thing to remember about asceticism is that the practitioner is giving up something good and legitimate for a higher good. In corporal mortification the good is personal comfort. If one does it out of some hostility toward pleasure or matter, or permenantly mutilates the body, it would be a type of gnosticism and illegitimate. This is why it needs to be down under the guidance of a spiritual director.
[/quote]

How does one burn oneself with hot coals without (by modern standards) mutilating oneself?

And as I pointed out before, it seems from what I can gather, that her advisors thought she was doing too much.

I agree that advisors should be consults, if for no other reason than to make sure that the desire is spiritual growth and not self-loathing.


#12

I tried my vocation at 2 different Religious orders whose names I won’t mention. In one of them we used the supplice as well as chains. I had no problem with them at the time for it was done as reparation for my sins and in union with the Crucified Christ. When I left and entered the other Order I was told that corporeal penance was no longer neccesary or healthy…that obedience and following the Rule of Life was enought of a penance. And I had to agree.
Just a few rambling thoughts…
In His love…
Marie


#13

[right]JMJ + OBT[/right]
Would this happen to be by any chance . . .

St. Rose of Lima?


#14

[quote=whosebob]Would this happen to be by any chance . . . St. Rose of Lima?
[/quote]

No. I left the name out because it was secondary to the question, but to statify curiosity, the person I have in mind was Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.


#15

[quote=T.A.Stobie, SFO]Never perform extreme mortification except under explicit approval of a spiritual director.
[/quote]

No exceptions.


#16

[quote=Scott Waddell]It is amazing that people can endure enormously painful medically uneccessary cosmetic surgery, binge/purge diets, ripping out body hair by the roots, all in the name of bodily beauty, and yet be appalled when someone does corporal mortification for spiritual reasons.
[/quote]

. . . or go out and run 4 miles in freezing rain . . . or press 20,000 pounds of iron . . . or live on nothing but raw vegetables in the name of “health” and “fitness.”


#17

[size=2]No exceptions. Again, these people seemed to go beyond the advice of their advisors, and were seemingly Divinely rewarded for it.

I’m not trying to dispute your point–it makes sense. It just seems that, historically, the opposite seems to be true.
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#18

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:47)

Even taking into consideration Christ’s hyperbole, it’s quite clear that corporal mortifications are encouraged by our Lord, the Apostles and the Saints. It also seems clear that those who look down on mortification in principle—not just in practice—are contradicting two thousand years of Catholic spirituality.

That being said, of course extreme mortifications should not be done without the consent of one’s spiritual director.

Mortification, Catholic Encyclopedia


#19

[quote=Timidity]I am not, however, one of those persons. :slight_smile:

How does one burn oneself with hot coals without (by modern standards) mutilating oneself?

And as I pointed out before, it seems from what I can gather, that her advisors thought she was doing too much.

I agree that advisors should be consults, if for no other reason than to make sure that the desire is spiritual growth and not self-loathing.
[/quote]

I would probably take issue with the hot coals like you. My points were meant to defend corporal mortification in general.

Scott


#20

Dear friend

How are mortifications reconciled with the fact that our bodies are sacred, that the Father works through Christ Jesus to heal the body and maintain health, infact sustains all life?

How is it pleasing to the Lord to harm our own bodies, when all bodies eventually suffer as God allows illness and suffering to befall all of His creatures? How is it pleasing to God when in Him we live and move and have our being, when the Holy Spirit lives in our body and we are a temple of the Holy Spirit to then harm the very temple the Holy Spirit indwells? That the Father chooses particular souls to suffer, ‘suffering souls’ not just for themselves but for the whole of humanity. Every human partakes in redemptive suffering if they offer it up, not just of body but also of mind and heart as well.

How does a soul know that God so chooses they suffer in this way? How do they KNOW it is the Father’s WILL and not just their own repulsion of their owns sins which of course if confessed have been forgiven.

How does mortification reconcile itself with the Infinite and Abundant MERCY of the Father? That once forgiven, sins are forgiven forever?

How does the practice of mortification force the WILL of God to grant graces? God grants graces to those He chooses and why would harming ourselves cause God to grant graces?

This is what I cannot reconcile.

God Bless you and much love and peace to you

Teresa


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