A Lost Art

What Ever Happened to -- Mortification?

In recent decades, there has been a decided shift in Lenten practices, a shift that has eliminated the time honored connection to mortification. This particular ascetical practice has Biblical roots and has been a part of our Tradition until recent years. Among the practices that fall into this category, fasting has always been one of the most common, but fasting from something that brings about personal discomfort. Yet so many people today have difficulty curtailing their food intake for just two days a year in the spirit of discipline and sacrifice.

As Lent begins, the penitential practices chosen should reflect a level of difficulty and not just mere change of behavior. What makes this shift even more disconcerting are the homilies given in which priests are asking people to take on as penance practices that should already be part of one’s everyday life, such as being nicer to a neighbor or family member. Rather, penance and mortification should not be an endeavor in correcting unpleasant vices but should be acts that mortify errant passions through the cultivation of the virtues of fortitude and temperance. To give up using bad language or fighting with a sibling is not penance in the true sense but a practice that we should always work on. To try to say something nice to someone everyday is not penance or mortification.

To go hungry for a day has intrinsic value in disciplining the self in preparation for eternal life. To say a rosary before the Blessed Sacrament every day while kneeling has intrinsic value in cultivating the passions for virtue. To take on some daily physical challenge with joy and hope has intrinsic value in pursuit of the True, Good, and Beautiful. These practices help a believer to rightly order himself or herself to virtue. As Lent unfolds, may our chosen penitential practices truly reflect the spirit of penance and mortification!