What acts of penance would the saints do that were extreme?

I was wondering what acts of suffering or pe Vance did the saints do to grow in holiness or to suffer?

Why do you ask? Are you seeking to do more penance?


They found a good and wise spiritual director and obeyed, with transparency in all things.

Or you could try to eat just a small bread crust every four days, like Anthony of the Desert. Not recommended, despite being admirable.

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Researching the desert fathers is a good place to start if your interested in extreme asceticism.

If you are interested in asceticism, you should read some of the source texts, like the Life of Anthony by St. Athanasius, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Ladder by St. John Climacus, or the Conferences by St. John Cassian. They’re all pretty interesting. But more importantly, you’ll get some of the context of ascetic practices, penances, mortifications, etc.

The point was not to do crazy stuff or test themselves. The point was to get closer to God, and to create and reach goals through “athletic training” (ascesis), so that they could have a clear path to an increase in virtue and holiness.

But even then, there was a constant need to go to Mass, read Scriptures, work on stuff to support themselves, and then consult a knowledgeable “coach” so that they didn’t grow in the wrong ways.

The monks of the Egyptian desert were a community of individuals, all working by themselves in intense solitude, in different ways, but toward a common goal, with a great feeling of brotherhood. (Or sisterhood, with desert nuns.)

In the West, where weather and food were more of a challenge, there were various kinds of adaptation of desert ascesis to a different climate and a people with different needs. The Irish were very big on asceticism, as were many folks in old Celtic lands. Gaul had the example of St. Martin of Tours and others, while St. Benedict of Nursia’s Benedictines were set up more like spiritual soldiers (with various duties and plenty to keep them busy) than spiritual athletes. St. Augustus’ rules for Augustinian sisters, monks, and canons were a lot more “relaxed,” because he wanted to give them more time for study and other tasks. And that all led to the broad spectrum of Western monasticism.

If you’re interested in “going into training,” creating an ordered life with a schedule is probably your first step.

If you can’t live an orderly schedule, for reasons not under your control, you should look into St. Catherine of Siena’s concept of being able to move around and do stuff while keeping your mind inside a sort of prayer room.

Either way, you could also look into St. Therese’s “little way” of ascesis through putting up with annoying people and small daily difficulties, and then offering them up to God.


I fear that the OP needs such “coaching” and not bright ideas for “extreme penance.”

Ordinary penances done extremely well are likely much better, unless the OP has mastered that and needs more. Unlikely.


Here’s a great penance… If you are married, your spouse is now to be listened to and cheerfully obeyed with extreme attention and love. Or your parents if you are living with them.

It’s extreme!

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Pretty much every ascetic text warns people not to start big, or try to do all sorts of things at once. It’s guaranteed to tire you out and discourage you, if you manage it, and to discourage you and make you think badly of yourself, if you can’t manage it.

Even St. Simon Stylites started by just standing praying on a rock for a few minutes. He worked up to the giant marble columns. :slight_smile:

Just pick one small thing at a time. Do that. See if it’s helping. Stick with it for a month or two, making it a habit. Then see if you can do one more thing, or more of the one thing.

If you want a whole guided program, St. Francis de Sales wrote “Introduction to the Devout Life” as something you can follow day by day. Literally, you just start with Day 1, read it, do what it says, think and pray about stuff, and then put the book down. Next day, you do Day 2, and so on. It’s online in translation for free, or you can buy it as a book.

I’m not trying to confuse you by throwing all this at you. Pretty much any of these books are good enough to spend lots of thought and prayer on, and there are plenty of others that would also work. Browse around and pick something, and you should be good.

Whipping one’s own back; standing in ice cold water are two that I have heard of.

We are warned to not be “athletes” in penances; it is a form of pride.

Doing daily what you are supposed to be doing at each moment with love for God is a good way accessible to all.

Yeah, before I began my discipline penance first a time my spiritual director had me read a section from Intro to a Devout Life about mortification.

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