Penance and mortification are vital in the practice of the interior life August 26, 2015Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, Interior Life, Liturgical Year, mortification, sanctity, Tradition, Virtue.
An interesting exegesis from Dom Prosper Gueranger on the vital role of penance and mortification in the development of virtue and growth in sanctity. Penance and mortification have tended to get short shrift among Catholics in the past century or so, with today’s minimal penitential requirements being a faint shadow of those regularly practiced by our forefathers in the Faith. The direction given below may seem harsh, and we should not go off into penitential extremes without the approval of a good confessor, but at the same time, I think there is a bit too much resistance toward these kinds of penitential acts which at one time were quite routine. I think priests should perhaps be a bit more open-minded when it comes to permitting souls to engage in penances they feel called towards.
From the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Vol. 11 of The Liturgical Year:
Penance and mortification differ in this; that penance is a debt of justice, incumbent on the sinner; mortification is a duty commanded by prudence; which duty becomes that of every Christian who is not foolish enough to pretend to be out of the reach of concupiscence. Is there anyone living who could honestly say that he has fully acquitted himself of these two duties, that he has satisfied the claims of God’s justice, and that he has stifled every germ of his evil passions? All spiritual masters, without exception, teach that no man who is desirous either of perfection or of salvation should limit himself to the rules of simple temperance, that cardinal virtue which forbids excess in pleasures of every kind. This, they tell us, is not enough; and that the Christian, taking up another virtue, namely fortitude, must from time to time refuse himself even lawful gratifications; must impose privations on himself which are not otherwise of obligation; must even inflict punishment on himself in the manner and measure permitted him by a discreet director.
Amidst the thousands of holy writers who treat of this point of asceticism, let us listen to the amiable and gentle St.Francis de Sales. ‘If’,’ says he, in his Introduction to a Devout Life – ‘if you can bear fasting you would do well to fast on certain days, beyond those fasts which the Church commands us to observe….’even when one does not fast much, yet does the enemy fear us all the more when he sees that we know how to impose a fast on ourselves. Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays were the days whereon the Christians of former times most practiced abstinence. Therefore, do you choose out of these for your fasts, as far as your devotion and the discretion of your director will counsel you to do…..The discipline, when taken, with moderation, possesses a marvelous power for awakening the desire for devotion. The hair-shirt is efficacious in reducing the body to subjection…….on days which are especially devoted to penance, one may wear it, the advice of a discreet confessor having been previously taken.” Thus speaks the learned Doctor of the Church, the saintly Bishop of Geneva, whose sweet prudence is almost proverbial; and there to whom he address these instructions are persons living in the world. In the world, quite as much as in the cloister, the Christian life, if seriously taken up, imperatively requires this incessant war of the spirit against the flesh. Let that war cease, and the flesh speedily usurps the sway, and reduces the soul to the state of torpor, be either seizing her very first attempts at virtue and chilling them into apathy, or by plunging her, at a single throw, deep in the the filth of sin. [Thus we can see how laxity in penance, even encouraged for various well-meant but perhaps utlimately unhelpful reasons by those in Church authority, has played a leading role in participating the crisis in the Faith, reducing souls to torpor and weak against the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Practice as much penance as you can, and pray for me, for I am weak! I will pray for you! And yes my wife+baby are doing fine, so far, thank you!]
Neither is it to be feared that affability in the Christian’s social intercourse will be in any way impaired by this energy of self-mortification. That virtue which is based on such forgetfulness of oneself, as to make him love discomfort and suffering for God’s sake, does not render such a man one whit less pleasing in company, or rob the friendly circle he frequents of one single charm……….The Day of Judgment will give a strange lesson to those many good-for-nothing and cowardly Christians who feel sure that everyone of their acquaintance is as fond of easy going softness as they themselves are!
Well, perhaps Dom Gueranger could make that claim 150 years ago, not so sure about today. But we might have a surprise here or there.