mortification

AN EFFECTIVE PRINCIPLE OF SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT

 

“You must run in such a way that you may be victorious.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

I would like to discuss with you in this note a great and necessary principle of spiritual advancement. The important principle I am referring to can be stated as follows:

THE MORE A PERSON PROMPTLY MORTIFIES HIS EVIL INCLINATIONS, THE MORE THE LIFE OF GRACE AND CHARITY WILL GROW IN HIM

We neglect this all-important principle of spiritual advancement at great risk to our growth in holiness and charity. Thus, if we fail to promptly mortify the evil inclination of bitterness or resentment toward another person, then more and more this bitterness and resentment takes root in our heart and soul and significantly impedes our spiritual development. If we are going to grow in charity, if we are going to grow in the love of God and neighbor, then we must learn to promptly mortify our evil thoughts and inclinations as soon as they rear their ugly heads! “We take captive every thought”, says St. Paul, “and make it obedient to Christ [and his law of charity] (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

Prompt mortification of our evil thoughts and inclinations is a great principle of the spiritual life, and we would be living a type of illusory spiritual life if we felt we were not called to practice it. This mortification involves a “stripping off of the old nature” with its sinful tendencies (Colossians 3:9), and a “putting on of a new nature” in “the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10). In the context of this note, we are talking primarily of mental, not bodily, mortification: we are talking about what psychologists might call cognitive training, and in traditional Catholic parlance it is called mortification of the mind or mortification of the will. Whatever it might be called it involves a two step process of:

1. Seeing and identifying in the mind an evil inclination or thought; and

2. Mortifying or casting out the evil thought just as quickly and effectively as possible.

As we train the mind to engage in this cognitive process through repeated, virtuous acts of mental mortification, it will develop into an amazingly healthy habit that purifies the mind of its evil or sinful tendencies. When we begin to consistently root out all these evil inclinations, like lust and malice and envy, we therefore begin to allow Christian charity to take “a deeper root in our will.” And the essential development of the Christian life is growth in charity: growth in the love of God and neighbor.

In another note, I present this concept of the mortification of the mind in a slightly different manner as formulated by a great Catholic spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, who speaks about “purity of heart” accomplishing so much in the spiritual life. See the following link:

HOLD MY HEART UP TO THE LIGHT: PRACTICING PURITY OF …

All of the great Catholic spiritual writers talk about the great spiritual principle of mortification, and it is a topic that needs to be better addressed at the current time.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. See link directly above.

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A SHORT MEDITATION ON SAINT THERESE AND HER ARDENT DESIRE FOR GOD

 “What prepares the soul to be united with God  is the desire for God”  
   (St. John of the Cross)



Public Domain



      From time to time it is helpful to pause and consider whether we are sincerely seeking after God. It is a valuable spiritual exercise simply to gauge your desire for God. A question to consider is whether there is anything in your life you value more than God? It is critical that you love God more than self, and all created things in God.

     A great desire for God, the Summum Bonum (Greatest Good), is key to our spiritual progress. The saints saw with true wisdom that the great good in life is the “Ever-Blessed God” who is Infinite Goodness (what can compare to Infinite Goodness: all the other goods in the world, wrapped together as one big bundle of good, are less than nothing compared to He who IS); and seeing this truth, and moved by it, the saints went after God with an unremitting intensity, knowing that union with this Infinitely Good God was the only true and final end of life.

     We affectionately call Saint Therese “The Little Flower”.  And all the saints were aware of their extreme littleness compared to God: humility is the pathway to God. But it would be a mistake not to see in Saint Therese the heart of a lion who went after God with a ferocious appetite. In fact, Saint Therese in her autobiography compares herself to “a weak little bird” who has “the eyes and heart of an eagle” (Manuscript B). An ardent desire for God – above all created goods – is characteristic of the saints.

     The sentimental image of Therese as a charming French girl who gave her life to God by becoming a nun and offered up little sacrifices on God’s behalf is true – yet her life runs even deeper than that. Her life is the story of a girl and then a young woman who was radically in love with God and who wished to offer herself to God in an exchange of love that took her completely beyond herself and into God (nuptial union). Therese’s “little way” of “making love the mainspring of every action” requires the profound, constant and universal mortification of self-love and self-interest. It is a little way but with huge implications for growth in holiness. The sweet, little way is a death – a death to self. Under-girding Therese’s little way, therefore, is an ardent love of God expressed by a sacrificial life.

     Of Therese, Father Christopher O’Donnell says: “When we get beneath the language and culture of Therese, we find that for all her charm, she was almost ruthless in her pursuit of holiness in her complete sacrifice to God’s merciful love.” Here are a few examples from Saint Therese’s autobiography which demonstrate her great desire to offer herself to God: 
 
     –  she reflects in her autobiography that around age 6 “I loved God intensely,  and very often I  offered Him my heart in words taught me by Mummy” (Image, p.32);
 
     –  At age 13 she writes these words of Saint John of the Cross in “fine lettering” : “To suffer and to be despised” (Gaucher, p.11);
 
    – At age 14 “while contemplating an image of Christ on the cross, she resolved to ‘remain in spirit at the foot of the cross’ in order to gather the blood that drips from his wounds and give it to souls” (Gaucher, p. 13); and
 
     – While a nun at Carmel (around age 22) she makes a profound offering of her life to God as a “victim of love” in a written text available online entitled, “An Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.”
                               
                            
      What is the lesson here? It is this: you gotta want God. You gotta go after God with great desire. Oh Mother Mary, please place in our hearts a portion of thy own desire for God.
     Practical recommendation: make a novena to Saint Therese for either a greater desire for God or for greater confidence in God.
 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” said the Lord (Jeremiah 29:13). 


Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 


ReferencesIn the opening pages of The Ascent of Mount Carmel Saint John of the Cross constantly reminds the reader of the nothingness of everything else compared to God, and I am using his language and that of Father Faber in this note (paragraph two). I am also relying on Bishop Guy Gaucher’s book, John and Therese: Flames of Love.

Image: Picture of Saint Therese, Public Domain, U.S.A.

 

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