What is redemptive suffering NOT?


I see that there is another thread on this topic, but I don’t want to derail it to get more specific, so I started a new thread.

My research of Our Lady of Fatima showed that the three children used a rope to inflict pain onto themselves, in reparation for sin. fatima.org/essentials/facts/1917appar.asp

The apparition suggested that God was satisfied with what they were doing, but that they shouldn’t sleep in that painful state, only during the daytime. This(among other things) makes me highly suspicious as to the legitimacy of the apparition.

Now, I’ve read Colossians 1:24. I realize that we can “offer it up,” when troubles or tribulations come regarding persecution for our faith. I, however, have viewed this as applying to “offering up” pain that comes through martyrdom, torture(inflicted by others) for our faith, social ostracism or rejection over our faith, enduring difficult labor for our faith, distress that may be caused by sacrificing time or material goods to benefit others, emotional pain that may result from having made virtuous yet difficult decisions, or in any way coming to physical or emotional suffering as a result of having done the “right” thing.

I do NOT understand redemptive suffering as meaning that God approves of us intentionally inflicting physical pain onto ourselves, the way the three children of Fatima did. In fact, I would think that such actions would be condemned as violating our bodies which are Temples of The Holy Spirit. I would THINK that it furthermore may even border on blasphemy if we were to do such a thing, and then claim that we are doing it for God.

So, my question is, has the Catholic Church EVER condoned intentional acts to inflict ourselves with physical pain as being meritorious ways of sacrificing to God? If so, please provide documentation, or a link to documentation that is officially Catholic, and would substantiate such claims. I don’t see how such actions benefit God or our neighbors. I certainly don’t see them as being a positive witness to our faith.

Please answer the SPECIFIC question that I asked, and do NOT derail this thread by going into a hissy fit in defending Our Lady of Fatima. Again, the issue is not whether we can unite our sufferings to Christ’s suffering according to Colossians 1:24. The issue is whether the Church has ever considered it meritorious to go out of our way to inflict ourselves with physical pain that would otherwise serve no direct purpose to benefit God, others, or ourselves.


I think intentional acts of mild self-harm can genuinely inspire someone to repentance. I find that the three strikes to the chest during the Confiteor are especially useful in inspiring true remorse (when done hard).

I think that’s the only use such acts can have - you shouldn’t beat yourself up as a penance.


Here is an article on mortification:
*“If you live after the flesh”, says the apostle, “you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13; cf. also Colossians 3:5, and Galatians 5:24). From this original use of the term, we see that mortification, though under one aspect it is a law of death, under another and more fundamental aspect it is a law of life, and does not destroy but elevates nature. What it slays is the disease of the soul, and by slaying this it restores and invigorates the soul’s true lief."


I’m not an expert by any means, but my understanding is that only a few people are truly called to this type of reparation. I remember speaking to my pastor once about this subject, and he said that even those saints who practiced mortification did so only under the guiding of a spiritual director.

In St. Faustina’s diary, she was often denied her request for mortification practices by her spiritual director as she was often weak and sick anyway. She used to request to wear some sort of chains (maybe someone knows what they are called) under her habit so that nobody else would know she was doing this.


We are indeed all called upon to voluntarily do penance. That’s not in issue. It’s implicit in Christ’s request that we deny ourselves and take up our Cross.

This statement makes clear that it’s not just passive acceptance of what comes our way that is called for, but an active turning away from our own comfort and pleasure for the sake of the Kingdom.

Our Lord makes this even more abundantly clear in Luke 13:5: “I say to you; but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.”

So important is voluntary penance that the Church makes it compulsory on pain of sin during Lent and requires some form of penitential act every Friday of the year.

The issue is merely, for the most part, one of what form that penance takes. And there are lots of forms - prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Physical penances are another. Of course, for lots of reasons, one shouldn’t do any sort of severe physical penance except under careful spiritual direction and after having your health checked to be sure you’re OK physically.

It is true that we aren’t all called upon to do exactly as the children of Fatima did. But many many saints have done just so and adopted some painful penances. St Rose of Lima, St Catherine of Siena, St Josemaria Escriva and St Francis of Assisi are some of the best-known examples.

And remember it’s God Himself who reveals the canonised Saints to us - by performing miracles on their behalf - among other things so that we can see their lives as models of what ours should be.

If you want to be a saint - and we all can be and should strive to be - severe physical penances are one well-used and seemingly highly successful path to sanctity.


We live in a culture that so pampers the flesh that the whole concept of choosing to undergo physical penance seems foreign. (Unless of course its in the pursuit of sports!!) As a result, I’m not sure how many of us would have the strength of will to remain faithful if subjected to physical torture. We’ve had very little practice in saying “no” to the flesh or accepting pain without complaint.

There is no doubt that many of the saints took on painful mortifications for the benefit of souls. When you read their lives, its as tho they experience a strong interior desire to do so - I would say, a desire placed within them by God; a desire that’s motivated/intertwined with a desire to save souls; a desire similar perhaps to Our Lord’s desire to suffer in order to save our souls. (cf Luke 12:50)

Isaiah 55:8-9 " For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. "



Here are a couple of articles on the topic:

Verse by Verse

Opus Dei lawmaker explains corporal mortification


… or beauty - read in detail about what some plastic surgery procedures involve! Horrific.


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