What is the Church’s stance on self-mortification?


The Catechism:

2015 The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes:

He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.

2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.


Also from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


1430 Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.23

1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).24

1432 The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart.25 Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!"26 God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced:27

Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.
1433 Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved "the world wrong about sin,"29 i.e., proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.30


1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving,31 which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers a multitude of sins."32

1435 Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right,33 by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.34

1436 Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. "It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins."35

1437 Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father - every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.

1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice.36 These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).

1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:37 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy - all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart Of Christ Who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.


Although there is no requirement other that the official days that the Church requires fasting and abstinence, many of the great saints practiced self mortification to a heroic degree.

Suffering is the coin in which reparation for sins is paid (St. Padre Pio). When we add our suffering to that of Christ more folks are saved from damnation and Purgatory. For ourselves, for our loved ones and for others, suffering now makes up for suffering later.

But be careful not to carry it to an extreme. There is fine line beteen self mortification and self mutilation. Self mortification is helpful, self mutilation is sinful.

Simply fasting and abstinence on days other than required goes a long way. Self inflicted pain can lead to serious injuries or infection. Consulting your priest or spiritual advisor would be wise before embarking on something radical or questionable.


What has been shared is valuable and true, but I’m also moved to mention in the spirit of WCKNIGHT’s last comment:

Anyone who needs to look for self-mortification is very lucky indeed. :slight_smile:
I find that life provides an unending source! For instance, those of us who have children, young or grown, can have more heartbreaking and devastating ongoing pain than many a non non-parent can imagine, like those who have destructive marriages or marriage breakups, or painful, protracted illnesses, for each person it can be different, for some, mental or emotional illness, or incorrigibly damaged self esteem and loneliness. Any of these can test faith, endurance, and sense of self to the limit, with God as only hope, God who to them may often seem silent.

The burdens of some people around may seem small to some of us, yet those burdens may still test them to their limit, grinding to dust much within them, but as St Therese points out, a timble that is full is as full as a bucket that is full. It’s as much as they can handle…but so long as they do not allow their burdens to cause them to turn in on themselves, but they offer their love to God and others in practical and prayerful ways, their daily mortification is serving the basic command of love that Jesus gives.

Under these emotional and spiritual roadrollers, like many, for myself I certainly never need to seek self-mortification, mortification comes unbidden, but rather to hang on to faith and hope, to the Lord, by the fingernails at times! I’m usually silent about those things that tear my heart to pieces, as are many other people. If they show some of their burden it is as the iceberg crown, the bulk still is hidden to all but God.

Occasionally one gets a glimpse into the lives and hearts of people whom on thinks one knows, people who are there for others, as in these forums, to find that despite their outreach to others, they are securely nailed to lifelong crosses, and sometimes they might find relief…to look for more suffering or mortification when for the most part they only survive with the silent hand of the Lord, and sometimes, only just survive, would perhaps cause Jesus to remind them that
"today has enough troubles of its own." … Jesus in Luke 11 vs. 33-36


Hi Trishie;

I want to sincerely thank you for sharing this input. In particular-

The burdens of some people around may seem small to some of us, yet those burdens may still test them to their limit, grinding to dust much within them, but as St Therese points out, a timble that is full is as full as a bucket that is full. It’s as much as they can handle…but so long as they do not allow their burdens to cause them to turn in on themselves, but they offer their love to God and others in practical and prayerful ways, their daily mortification is serving the basic command of love that Jesus gives.

In my instance I feel sometimes that I might be trying to (“kick against the goad”) sort of speak. With a lump of sadness in my throat I immensely feel the harsh memories and flashbacks of my past torturous and horrid gang-rape at gunpoint. It’s as if I feel that Satan himself sometimes is trying to tempt my resilience by steering me away at times from accepting my painful cross by steering my faith, hope, and love of God to the point of making me think that God does not care for ANY of the multi-millions of rape victims in the world. Every year in August especially on the 25th the Anniversary of my Gang-rape I have to fight despondent.
Unfortunately; it’s a big issue with me. How many tears have I shed wishing God would remove those painful memories from my heart. Yet; I know that I must travel the road of humility by accepting this heavy Cross and joining it with the sufferings of Christ my beloved Savior. Is it easy ? Not at all. But; I am convinced that humility and suffering is the key to God Himself bringing our weak souls in closer union with Him. If we do not unite our sufferings and the mortification’s of our human ties to our affinities in the human flesh we can have nothing in common with our beloved Savior Jesus Christ. Am I kicking the goad feeling this way every year at this time thinking about my painful past ?
Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how God the Potter of my heart of clay wants to mold me. But I shall trust with faith in the Darkness of the Night of the Soul.
Please Pray For Me.


Saint Monica

Feast Day – August 27

This holy woman seems to have spent her life crying, coping, and praying. She was married to a hot-tempered pagan husband, Patricius. They had a child, Aurelius Augustinus, born in the North African town of Tagaste, a village in the present day Algeria, near the border of Tunisia. Monica prayed for Patricius to be converted to Christianity. And later in life, he did convert.

Although a brilliant student, Augustinus led a life of sin, pride and sensuality. He studied law, dropped it to take up writing and was involved in a cult. Monica, ever patient prayed hard to save her son, who eventually converted. He was baptized Augustine. Although he started his life in sin he repented and spent the rest of his life preaching and writing about God. Augustine late became the Bishop of Hippo.

Monica dies shortly after Augustine converted, having fulfilled through prayers the vision the Augustine will be saved. Such is the dedication of a mother.

Novena To Saint Monica

Exemplary Mother of the Great Augustine,
You perserveringly pursued your wayward son
Not with wild threats
But with prayerful cries to heaven.

Intercede for all mothers in our day
So that they may learn
To draw their children to God.

Teach them how to remain
Close to their children,
Even the prodigal sons and daughters
Who have sadly gone astray.

Dear St Monica, troubled wife and mother,
Many sorrows pierced your heart
During your lifetime.
Yet you never despaired or lost faith.
With confidence, persistence and profound faith,
You prayed daily for the conversion
Of your beloved husband, Patricius
And your beloved son, Augustine.

Grant me that same fortitude,
Patience and trust in the Lord.
Intercede for me, dear St. Monica,
That God may favorably hear my plea

(mention your petition here)

And grant me the grace
To accept his will in all things,
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit