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 and our will is weakened.
The Daily Struggle
Due to the effects of Original Sin and our own personal sins that are committed after baptism, our souls are filled with many things that are not of God. Like a good spring-cleaning, Lent provides us an excellent opportunity to rid our souls of anything and everything that does not belong there. The practice of mortification is the way to free our souls of sins and attachments that keep God from fully possessing our lives.
The practice of continual mortification is an essential part of our walk with the Lord. “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires” (Gal 5: 24). 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.
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.
Greed is another sin that causes many problems. Excellent acts of mortification include establishing a budget, practicing the biblical teaching of tithing, eliminating debt, limiting the use of credit cards, living within your means, and being 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. 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 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. There are a number of pornography-free Internet servers that can be used. Living a moral life, modesty in dress, control of our eyes, avoiding sensual movies and television programs, and staying away from dangerous friends 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 dealing with it later 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.
It Takes Perseverance
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.
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 may be something that we will struggle with for the rest of our lives. We may chase the thing out of our soul, 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.
St. 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 its best in weakness” (II Cor 12:9).
Let us then chase out of our soul whatever may be an obstacle to our relationships with Jesus Christ. Mortification is an act of the will. Mortification cannot be based on wishful thinking. We really have to die to ourselves in order for Jesus to live in our lives. 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 there is, is the Jesus Who was crucified.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
Father James Farfaglia is Pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, CT, Father has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by e-mail at Icthus@GoCCN.org.