Our Blessed Lady's Profound Mortification
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
The Ever-Virgin Mary spent Herself in mortification. She embraced every opportunity that came Her way to practice self-denial. How she appreciated and used well the abundant chances that God gave to Her to deny Herself some licit good!
Mortification makes some of us very nervous. We wonder if we can persevere in some little self-imposed penance. This is often true during the penitential season of Lent. The days and weeks before that season begins can be a breeding ground for trepidation.
But Our Blessed Lady had no fear about self-denial. Only reverential fear for God could be found in Her Immaculate Heart. Her genuine desire to mortify Herself derived from Her deep, abiding love for God, a love that God Himself inspired. Hence, the Madonna was not afraid to practice mortification. On the other hand, She treasured the possibilities for self-denial that presented themselves.
Mortification is, according to Jesuit Father Sydney F. Smith in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc., 1913; Volume X, page 578), a method “which Christian asceticism employs in training the soul to virtuous and holy living. The term originated with St. Paul, who traces an instructive analogy between Christ dying to a mortal and rising to an immortal life, and His followers who renounce their past life of sin and rise through grace to a new life of holiness. ‘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).”
Mortification is often thought of in relation to the palate. But self-denial encompasses more than restricting food and drink; it also can be applied to limiting one’s own rest in order to spend additional time in prayer and acts of charity for others. Furthermore, self-denial can be practiced by the use of a less comfortable bed, walking instead of riding in a car, guarding one’s eyes, etc. Self-denial is not meant to ruin one’s own physical health. Hence, one must exercise the Cardinal Virtue of Prudence when choosing voluntary forms of self-denial.
Here we make a crucial point: besides an external element, mortification has an internal aspect. The same Father Smith wrote: “ . . . spiritual writers never tire of insisting that the internal mortification of pride and self-love in their various forms are essential . . . that external penances are good only so far as they spring from this internal spirit, and react by promoting it . . . .”
One of the reasons we practice mortification is to atone for our past sins. We recognize that we have offended Our Blessed Lord. Hence, we deny ourselves certain licit pleasures as a way to repair for our transgressions. Again, Father Smith: “ . . . earnest Catholics are constantly found denying themselves even in matters which in themselves are confessedly lawful.”
Of course, in Our Blessed Lady’s case there was no need for self-denial in order to restore order disturbed by Her personal sins. Rather, Her mortification allowed Her to embrace deprivation of legitimate comforts as a demonstration of Her vast love of God. She denied Herself to show Her dependence on Her Creator and Her own “littleness.”
Supported by the Holy Spirit, we practice mortification, as Father Smith contended, relying not on the power of our self-denial but instead on the mercy of God Who sees our sincerity. We desire to make reparation for our sins and those of others and, like Mary, demonstrate our reliance on Our Loving Father for everything.
(Reprinted with permission from the January 2007 issue of "Missio Immaculatae International" [English edition], pages 8-9.)
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