SOUL FOOD Talk 8: TRAINING BROTHER ASS – MORTIFICATION
[1.] Mortification refers to the Christian ideal of dying to self through deliberate restraint of our unruly passions and appetites. It refers to our struggle against evil inclinations. It distinguishes between external mortification for example, fasting, controlling one’s tongue and internal mortification “the discipline of the heart,” overcoming aversions, resentments, dangerous attachments. While both kinds of mortification are important, St. Alphonsus views the internal as both more demanding and more fruitful for spiritual growth. Thanks to redemptorists.com
[2.] CARDINAL MERCIER: The aim of Christian mortification is to counteract the evil influences which original sin continues to exert on our souls, even after Baptism has regenerated them. Our regeneration in Christ, while completely wiping out sin in us, leaves us, none the less, very far indeed from original rectitude and peace. It was recognised by the Council of Trent that concupiscence, which is to say the triple covetousness of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life, makes itself felt in us even after Baptism, in order to rouse us to the glorious struggles of the Christian life*. It is this triple covetousness which Scripture calls sometimes the old man, as opposed to the new man who is Jesus living in us and ourselves living in Jesus; and sometimes the flesh or fallen nature, as opposed to the spirit or to nature regenerated by supernatural grace. It is this old man or this flesh, that is to say the whole man with his twofold, moral and physical life, that one must, I do not say annihilate, because that is an impossibility so long as our present life continues, but mortify, which means to cause it to die, to reduce it almost to the powerless, inactive and barren state of a corpse; one must prevent it from yielding its fruit, which is sin, and nullify its action in all our moral life.
[3.] [livingchrist.webs.com] St. Francis of Assisi used to refer to his body as “Brother Ass.” This was common knowledge and practice among the Franciscans. At the moment St. Anthony of Padua (a Franciscan priest) died, he appeared to a beloved brother, Abbot Gallo, and told him, “I have come to say goodbye, for I have left the ass at Arcella, and am now hastening to my fatherland.” Not thinking anything had happened out of the ordinary, Abbot Gallo looked for Anthony to talk with him, not even realizing that St. Anthony had died.
[4.] Brother Ass has no mind, only a comfort zone which he hates to leave. What is sweet to the taste, to the touch, to the smell, to the hearing, and to the sight is his only focus. To let Brother Ass have his way is to feed the body at the expense of the soul and spirit. If we give Brother Ass his way in all things, he will do nothing hard, will have his way with us, (like an unruly and hard to control beast), will be spoiled and greedy, and will always take the easy way out. Without Brother Ass, we cannot function as human beings. We do not have a body. We are a body. Our growth and perfection as good Christians depends on a balance between the flesh and the spirit, with the spirit always having the upper hand.
[5.] Therefore, Brother Ass needs some serious training. Insofar as we deny Brother Ass, we strengthen our moral strength, our will. And it is our will that God wants. A strong will that seeks perfect union with His Will. Giving in to Brother Ass will prolong our struggle to reach perfection, deter us, and may completely stop us in our tracks. Mortification is taken from two root words: mors — death, and facio — to make. So mortification means literally to make to die, or to kill. What are we expected to kill? The inordinate love of all things material or self-serving–everything that pleases Brother Ass.
[6.] As you read the lives of the saints you see that they practiced mortification on a heroic level, living sometimes on bread and water for days at a time, or little more; staying awake for hours to pray at night; wearing a hair-shirt–which itched Brother Ass to death! They lowered their eyes so as not to give Brother Ass the pleasure of unrestricted vision and distractions; they retreated into lonely places, restricting even pleasant socializing with friends and other people; they kept silent, mortifying the hearing. It is not likely that we are called to such extreme practices, but it is advisable to do small things to train Brother Ass.
[7.] Failure to deny the flesh has grave consequences. Our personal health crises are often the ultimate result of failure to control Brother Ass, letting him have all the sweet, fatty pleasant tasting foods he wants, instead of making him eat what is good for him! Our marriages often break up because neither husband or wife is willing to give in or concede to the other foolish things for the sake of the union. We give in to our children and spoil them for themselves and for society. Our lack of mortification has resulted in a polluted or weakened society, planet, and a weakened Church. Brother Ass is all about the flesh, what the body wants, convenience, ease, and pleasure. Mortification will help prepare us for times of temptation and trials. We will be stronger, will have the spiritual stamina to endure for Christ. Yes, we are called to this–all of us–not just the saints on the holy pictures. We are the body of Christ; we are the saints!
[8.] [ http://www.ewtn.com/library/montfort/Handbook/Mortif.htm] ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT echoes this attitude when he writes: “Never give your body all it demands. With permission, refuse it even some lawful satisfaction.” Montfort led a life of rigorous mortification. He willingly gave up the comforts of life because he firmly believed that “wisdom is not found in the hearts of those who live in comfort.” Mortification of the body, according to Montfort, is indispensable in our efforts to possess Wisdom. Speaking of bodily mortifications, he says that accepting our life as it is and living it patiently everyday by enduring our bodily ailments, the inconveniences of the weather, and the difficulties arising from other people’s actions is mortification enough. To this we may add some voluntary penances and mortifications, such as fasts, vigils, and other austerities practiced by holy penitents.
[9.] De Montfort points out that interior mortifications are more important than exterior ones, even though the latter are not to be disregarded. The conquest of selfishness, or self-will, is the greatest challenge. De Montfort also teaches that little mortifications are often more meritorious than great ones because they are less apt to give rise to vanity. Small interior acts of mortification made for God, for example, repressing useless words and glances or checking a movement of anger or impatience, etc., could turn out to be great victories In this connection, he specifically asks—in his down-to-earth language—to mortify “1) a certain natural activity that inclines you to hurry and to accomplish much; 2) changing moods that rule you and displease your neighbor; 3) your tongue, which always wishes to talk, laugh, mock etc.; 4) a tendency to lack religious modesty in your bearing, which makes you act like a child, laugh like a fool, jump around like a juggler, and eat and drink like an animal.”
. SUFFERING THAT HAPPENS TO US IS KNOWN AS PASSIVE MORTIFICATION. SUFFERING WE ALLOW TO HAPPEN IS KNOWN AS ACTIVE MORTIFICATION. [http://www.mariancatechist.com/spiritual_reading/seeking_sanctification.html]
Passive mortifications come in various forms, but they are not the sufferings we experience from having sinned, e.g., suffering a hangover after being intoxicated. Rather, they come to us unsolicited, the consequence of living in a world that has fallen from the grace of God. Passive mortifications can be grave, for example, sickness or injury, the death of a loved one, losing one’s employment. For the most part, passive mortifications come to us in smaller and less severe versions such as a difficult boss or co-worker, a spouse who from time to time is insensitive and uncaring or children who are demanding and unappreciative.
. St. Jose Marie Escriva, the founder of the Opus Dei Prelature often pointed out that our daily life and work provide significant opportunities to experience passive mortifications, primarily through petty annoyances like an unexpected change in plans, instruments or tools that fail us, the discomfort caused us by the weather being to hot or cold. When these small crosses are embraced generously and courageously they help us to grow in holiness. Pope Paul VI spoke eloquently about carrying these kinds of daily crosses in his March 24, 1967 Address: “To carry one’s cross is something great. Great….It means facing up to life courageously, without weakness or meanness. It means that we turn into moral energy those difficulties which will never be lacking in our existence; it means understanding human sorrow; and finally, it means knowing really how to love.”
. For the most part active mortifications that are not severe can be exercised repeatedly throughout the day. Examples would be: punctuality—to arise from bed immediately in the morning, to be on time for work and returning punctually after a break, to not leave a task undone because it is difficult to bring to completion. Most importantly concerning punctuality is to maintain definite times for prayer throughout the day. We must avoid praying only “when we feel like it” or “when we have time for it.” We should set times for prayer within our day and keep to them. To deny oneself sleep in order to maintain a vigil of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, is a laudatory practice of active mortification.
. Other examples would be to smile and be joyful even though your day or situation has been and continues to be difficult, to remain silent and charitable when you are being criticized without a good reason, to participate in conversation with those who are boring or overbearing, overlooking those irritating details of the people with whom we live and giving up some comfort that we have come to cherish.
. “…Mortification of the imagination—avoiding that interior monologue in which fantasy runs wild, by trying to turn it into a dialogue with God, present in our soul in grace. We try to put a restraining check on that tendency of ours to go over and over some little happening in the course of which we have come off badly. No doubt we have felt slighted, and have made much of an injury to our self-esteem, caused to us quite unintentionally. If we don’t apply the brake in time, our conceit and pride will cause us to overbalance until we lose our peace and presence of God.
[15.] “Mortification of the memory—avoiding useless recollections which make us waste time and which could lead us into more serious temptations.
[16.] “Mortification of the intelligence—so as to put it squarely to the business of concentrating on our own duty at this moment and, also, on many occasions of surrendering our own judgment so as to live humility and charity with others in a better way.”
[17.] Finally, it needs to be pointed out that to realize the spiritual growth and benefit that results from active and passive mortifications does not require that we carry them out with a conscious intention of uniting each one to Christ’s redemptive suffering at the time they are done. To do so, would be continually distracting and make our daily work almost impossible. Our daily mortifications will be united to Christ’s redemptive work by virtue our having made our Morning Offering, “… I offer to you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings …”
[18.] Those mortifications that are most pleasing to God are those that involve being more charitable to our neighbor, more dedicated to the work of the Church, and those that help us to be more faithful in carrying out the obligations that are necessary to our state in life.
[19.] Saint Jean Marie Vianney: Oh, how I like those little mortifications that are seen by nobody, such as rising a quarter of an hour sooner, rising for a little while in the night to pray! but some people think of nothing but sleeping. There was once a solitary who had built himself a royal palace in the trunk of an oak tree; he had placed thorns inside of it, and he had fastened three stones over his head, so that when he raised himself or turned over he might feel the stones or the thorns. And we, we think of nothing but finding good beds, that we may sleep at our ease. We may refrain from warming ourselves; if we are sitting uncomfortably, we need not try to place ourselves better; if we are walking in our garden, we may deprive ourselves of some fruit that we should like; in preparing the food, we need not eat the little bits that offer themselves; we may deprive ourselves of seeing something pretty, which attracts our eyes, especially in the streets of great towns.”
Practice Of Christian Mortification -Cardinal Desire Mercier (1851-1926)
[20.] Mortification of the body – Mortification of the senses, of the imagination and the passions
1 – Close your eyes always and above all to every dangerous sight, and even – have the courage to do it – to every frivolous and useless sight. See without looking; do not gaze at anybody to judge of their beauty or ugliness.
2 Keep your ears closed to flattering remarks, to praise, to persuasion, to bad advice, to slander, to uncharitable mocking, to indiscretions, to ill ¬disposed criticism, to suspicions voiced, to every word capable of causing the very smallest coolness between two souls.
3 – If the sense of smell has something to suffer due to your neighbor’s infirmity or illness, far be it from you ever to complain of it; draw from it a holy joy.
4 – In what concerns the quality of food, have great respect for Our Lord’s counsel: “Eat such things as are set before you.” “Eat what is good without delighting in it, what is bad without expressing aversion to it, and show yourself equally indifferent to the one as to the other. There,” says St. Francis de Sales, “is a real mortification.”
5 – Offer your meals to God; at table impose on yourself a tiny penance: for example, refuse a sprinkling of salt a glass of wine, a sweet, etc.; your companions will not notice it, but God will keep account of it.
6 – Bear with everything which naturally grieves the flesh, especially the cold of winter, the heat of summer, a hard bed and every inconvenience of that kind. Whatever the weather, put on a good face; smile at all temperatures. Say with the prophet: “Cold, heat, rain, bless ye the Lord.”
7 – If you feel within you the need to day dream, mortify it without mercy.
8 – Mortify yourself with the greatest care in the matter of impatience, of irritation or of anger.
9 – Examine your desires thoroughly; submit them to the control of reason and of faith: do you ever desire a long life rather than a holy life, wish for pleasure and well-being without trouble or sadness, victory without battle, success without setbacks, praise without criticism, a comfortable, peaceful life without a cross of any sort, that is to say a life quite opposite to that of Our Divine Lord?
10 – Seek to discover your predominant failing and, as soon as you have recognized it, pursue it all the way to its last retreat. To that purpose, submit with good will to whatever could be monotonous or boring in the practice of the examination of conscience.
[21.] Mortification of the mind and the will
1 – Mortify your mind by denying it all fruitless imaginings, all ineffectual or wandering thoughts which waste time, dissipate the soul, and render work and serious things distasteful.
2 – Every gloomy and anxious thought should be banished from your mind. Concern about all that could happen to you later on should not worry you at all. As for the bad thoughts which bother you in spite of yourself, you should, in dismissing them, make of them a subject for patience. Being involuntary, they will simply be for you an occasion of merit.
3 – Avoid obstinacy in your ideas, stubbornness in your sentiments. You should willingly let the judgments of others prevail, unless there is a question of matters on which you have a duty to give you opinion and speak out.
4 – Mortify the natural organ of your mind, which is to say the tongue. Practice silence gladly, whether your rule prescribes it for you or whether you impose it on yourself of your own accord.
5 – Prefer to listen to others rather than to speak yourself; and yet speak appropriately, avoiding as extremes both speaking too much, which prevents others from telling their thoughts, and speaking too little, which suggests a hurtful lack of interest in what they say.
6 – Never interrupt somebody who is speaking and do not forestall, by answering too swiftly, a question he would put to you.
7 – Always have a moderate tone of voice, never abrupt or sharp. Avoid very, extremely, horribly; all exaggeration.
8 – Love simplicity and straightforwardness. The pretenses, evasions, deliberate equivocations which certain pious people indulge in without scruple greatly discredit piety.
9- Carefully refrain from using any coarse, vulgar or even idle word, because Our Lord warns us that He will ask an account of them from us on the Day of Judgment.
10 – Above all, mortify your will; that is the decisive point. Bend it constantly to what you know is God’s good pleasure and the rule of Providence, without taking any account either of your likes or your dislikes.
[22.] Mortifications to practice in our exterior actions
1 – Never give one moment over to sloth: from morning until night keep busy without respite.
2 – Devote yourself solely to your present occupation, without looking back on what went before or anticipating in thought what will follow. Say with Saint Francis: “While I am doing this I am not obliged to do anything else”; “let us make haste very calmly; all in good time.”
3 – Be modest in your bearing. Nothing was so perfect as Saint Francis’s deportment; he always kept his head straight, avoiding alike the inconstancy which turns it in all directions, the negligence which lets it droop forward and the proud and haughty disposition which throws it back. His countenance was always peaceful, free from all annoyance, always cheerful, serene and open; without however any merriment or indiscreet humor, without loud, immoderate or too frequent laughter.
4 – He was as composed when alone as in a large gathering. He did not cross his legs, never supported his head on his elbow. When he prayed he was motionless as a statue. When nature suggested to him he should relax, he did not listen.
5 – Regard cleanliness and order as a virtue, uncleanness and untidiness as a vice; do not have dirty, stained or torn clothes. On the other hand, regard luxury and worldliness as a greater vice still . Make sure that, on seeing your way of dressing, nobody calls it “slovenly” or “elegant”, but that everybody is bound to think it “decent.”
[23.] Mortifications to practice in our relations with our neighbor
1 – Bear with your neighbor’s defects; defects of education, of mind, of character. Bear with everything about him which irritates you: his gait, his posture, tone of voice, accent, or whatever.
2 – Bear with everything in everybody and endure it to the end and in a Christian spirit. Never with that proud patience which makes one say: “What have I to do with so and so? How does what he says affect me? What need have I for the affection, the kindness or even the politeness of any creature at all and of that person in particular?” Nothing accords less with the will of God than this haughty unconcern, this scornful indifference; it is worse, indeed, than impatience.
3 – Are you tempted to be angry? For the love of Jesus, be meek.
To avenge yourself? Return good for evil; it is said the great secret of touching Saint Teresa’s heart was to do her a bad turn. To look sourly at someone? Smile at him with good nature. To avoid meeting him? Seek him out willingly. To talk badly of him? Talk well of him. To speak harshly to him? Speak very gently, warmly, to him.
4 – Do not be witty at the expense of charity.
5 – If somebody in your presence should take the liberty of making remarks which are rather improper, or if someone should hold conversations likely to injure his neighbor’s reputation, you may sometimes rebuke the speaker gently, but more often it will be better to divert the conversation skillfully or indicate by a gesture of sorrow or of deliberate inattention that what is said displeases you.
6 – It costs you an effort to render a small service: offer to do it. You will have twice the merit.
7 – Avoid with horror posing as a victim in your own eyes or those of others. Far be it from you to exaggerate your burdens; strive to find them light; they are so, in reality, much more often than it seems; they would be so always if you were more virtuous.
[24.] Conclusion: Would to God we had the right to apply to ourselves these beautiful words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “In all things we suffer tribulation … Always bearing about in our body the death of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.” (II Cor. 4:8-10)
SUMMARY: Mortification can be ACTIVE or PASSIVE, EXTERNAL or INTERNAL. We should daily mortify the BODY, IMAGINATION, MIND or INTELLIGENCE, MEMORY, WILL, OUR EXTERIOR ACTIONS, OUR RELATIONS WITH OUR NEIGHBOR.