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The Happy Priest: Mortification in our Lives - Keeping the Temple Clean

By Fr. James Farfaglia
March 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Due to the effects of Original Sin and our own personal sins that are committed after Baptism, our temples are filled with many things that are not of God.  Lent provides us an excellent opportunity to take up a whip and chase out of our souls anything and everything that does not belong there.  The practice of mortification is the way to rid our souls of sins and attachments that keep God from fully possessing our lives.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - "Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.  He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, 'Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace'" (John 2: 13-16).

The Sacrament of Baptism has made us temples of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism washes away Original Sin, but we are left with the effects of Original Sin.  Our intellect is darkened, our will is weakened and our passions are inflamed.  St. Paul famously describes the inner struggle in chapter 7 of his letter to the Romans.  He describes this struggle in dramatic terms.  He states that he cannot understand his own behavior, and that he finds himself doing the very things that he hates (see Romans 7: 14-25).

Due to the effects of Original Sin and our own personal sins that are committed after Baptism, our temples are filled with many things that are not of God.  Lent provides us an excellent opportunity to take up a whip and chase out of our souls anything and everything that does not belong there.  The practice of mortification is the way to rid our souls of sins and attachments that keep God from fully possessing our lives. 

Saint Paul's letters are so practical.  Regarding mortification he tells us, again from Romans: "So then there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives.  If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live" (Romans 8: 12-13).

In his letter to the Colossians the theme is repeated with these words: "That is why you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god." (Colossians 3: 5). 

Finally, in his letter to the Galatians he writes emphatically: "You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).

The practice of continual mortification is an essential part of our walk with the Lord.  Without the use of daily mortification, we will not be able to resist the onslaught of our sinful human nature, the temptations caused by Satan and the allurements of the world.  Not only are we to fight against sin, be it mortal sin or venial sin, but we must also get to the root of our sins and remove the inordinate affections that cause us to sin in a certain way.

However, to avoid sin is not enough.  We must grow in holiness.  The practice of mortification must be daily and life long.  The battle never ends until we are dead.  The practice of mortification demands a conscious and willful renewal every day of our lives.  The struggle may be more or less intense during the different stages of our life journey.  Although we may have to deal with different issues, the struggle will always be present.  If we want to save our souls, an intense, dramatic struggle is necessary.  We need to take up the whip and continually force out of our temple anything that keeps us from getting to Heaven. 

Let us consider briefly some of our most common struggles and the mortification that needs to take place in order that Jesus may take full possession of our temple. 

Pride is at the top of the list of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Pride is an ugly sin and it must be dealt with seriously and energetically.  This sin will be uprooted by replacing it with the virtue of humility.  Repeated concrete acts of humility will continue to hammer away at this sin.   The Litany of Humility provides an excellent program for anyone who struggles with this vice (see http://www.rc.net/wcc/humility.htm). 

Greed is another sin that causes many problems.  Excellent acts of mortification include establishing a budget, practice the Biblical teaching of tithing, give generously to charity, eliminate your debt, limit the use of credit cards, live within your means and be content with what you already have. 

Gluttony is a very addictive sin.  If we can control our eating habits and our spending habits, we will then have a greater ability to live the virtue of chastity.  Gluttony needs to be mortified by a strict spirit of self-control.  It is said that Blessed Pope John XXIII struggled with this sin.  He had a life long battle with his weight.  One day he was seen crying as he was eating a huge bowl of ice-cream.  Acts of mortification include not snacking between meals, eating smaller portions, eating healthy foods, saving deserts for Sundays and special feast days, and exercising moderation in the use of alcoholic beverages.
 
Laziness or sloth is also a very controlling sin.  The lazy person is not so much concerned about the bad that he does, but the good that is left undone.  The lazy person has to form and strengthen the will.  Getting up on time in the morning, making your bed, cleaning your room, doing your duty with perfection, using your time well, regular physical exercise and personal discipline are very important acts of mortification that will successfully uproot the sin of laziness and replace it with the virtue of diligence. 

 Lust is another big struggle, if not the biggest for most people.  Of all of the sins that have been mentioned thus far, this one is the most addictive.  Lust must be dealt with severely.  This is something that we cannot fool around with.

The best weapon against lust is to run away from the occasions of sin. 

When we accept our weakness, we will not put ourselves into dangerous situations.

If the cable is a problem, then get rid of it.  If the Internet is a problem, then do not have it home, use it at work only.  Living a moral life, modesty in dress, control of our eyes, avoiding sensual movies and television programs, and staying away from dangerous situations are some of the things that we can do to replace lust with the virtue of chastity. 

Finally, anger is another sin that most people struggle with.  Anger must be replaced with the virtue of charity.  Never deal with situations such as disciplining children when you are angry.  Exercise mortification by walking away from a difficult situation and deal with it latter when you are serene. 

Walking around the neighborhood for a few minutes can be very beneficial when you are ready to explode.  Physical exercise is also a good remedy for anger.  After work, it is a good habit to work out at the local gym or go for a run.  You can blow off a lot of steam and stress, and then enter your house calm and refreshed. 

Of course, all of these acts of mortification that I have mentioned presuppose a mature spiritual life.  Self-knowledge, a serious battle plan, and the regular use of the Sacrament of Confession are also indispensable tools for spiritual growth and development.

Remember, the goal of our spiritual life is to become a new person in Christ.  It is not enough just to be a "good person" or to be "nice."  We are called to be saints.  My new book Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics provides an easy to understand practical guide how to develop and live a serious spiritual life and a deeper relationship with God.  It is a perfect manual for anyone that wants to progress in the spiritual life. 

The continual struggle with ourselves can be exhausting at times.  We can even become discouraged when we struggle over long periods of time with the same sin.  Discouragement must be met with Christian hope.  There maybe something that we will struggle with for the rest of our lives.  We may chase the thing out of our temple, but it keeps on trying to get back in.  It may continually pound on the door, look for an open window, or even a crack in the foundation. If a dominant fault does not go away, it must be surrounded with heroic virtue. 

Saint Paul was given an answer that he was not looking for when he complained to the Lord about his "thorn in the flesh."  "My grace is enough for you: my power is at is best in weakness" (II Corinthians 12: 9). 

Let us then take up a whip and chase out of our soul whatever maybe an obstacle to our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Mortification is an act of the will.  Mortification cannot be based on wishful thinking.  We have to really die to ourselves in order for Jesus to live in our temple.  Dying to sin, attachments, addictions, obsessions and selfish tendencies will be a painful and even dramatic experience. 

But, too many people today are looking for an easy Christianity.    We need to look upon the crucifix and understand once again that the only Jesus that there is, is the Crucified Jesus. 

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Father James Farfaglia is the Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX.  Check out Father's updated website to learn more about his books, homilies and audio podcasts.

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