Presence of God – I come back to Your feet, O Crucified Jesus, desirous of understanding more thoroughly the spirit of mortification.
The spirit of mortification has more than a purely physical aspect of mortification; it also includes renunciation of the ego, the will, and the understanding. Just as in our body and in our senses we have unruly tendencies toward the enjoyment of material things, so also in our ego there are inordinate tendencies toward self-assertion. Love of self and complacency in our own excellence are often so great that, even unconsciously, we tend to make “self” the center of the universe.
The spirit of mortification is really complete when, above all, we seek to mortify self-love in all its many manifestations. The Pharisee who fasted on the appointed days, but whose heart was so puffed up with pride that his prayer amounted to nothing more than praise of himself and scorn of his neighbor, did not have the spirit of mortification and hence was not justified before God. There is little value in imposing corporal mortifications on ourselves if we then refuse to yield our opinion in order to accommodate ourselves to others, if we cannot be reconciled with our enemies, or bear an injury and a cutting word with calmness, or hold back a sharp answer.
“Why,” asks St. Teresa of Jesus, “do we shrink from interior mortification [of our ego, our will, and judgment] since this is the means by which every other kind of mortification may become much more meritorious and perfect, and may be practiced with greater tranquility and ease?” (Way of Perfection 12). As long as mortification does not strike at our pride, it remains at the halfway mark and never reaches its goal.
O Lord, You who have sought for adorers in spirit and in truth, preserve me, I beg You, from the pharisaic spirit against which You fought while on earth, and which is so opposed to You, who are infinite Truth and Simplicity. Grant that while mortifying my body, I may mortify my pride even more, or better, mortify it Yourself.
You who know the secret places in my heart, the most deeply hidden instincts of my self-love, prepare for me the most effective medicine for purifying, healing, and transforming me. You alone know where this most harmful microbe nests; You alone can destroy it. But how often, alas, in the varying circumstances of my life, I have not recognized Your hand, Your work; and I have tried in so many ways to escape the physical and moral sufferings, the mortifications, humiliations, and difficulties which You Yourself had prepared for me.
How blind I am, O Lord, and how poorly do I recognize Your ways, which are so different and remote from my limited human views. Give me, O God, that supernatural sight which can judge events in Your light, and which can penetrate the true meaning of the sufferings which You place in my path. Intensify this light in proportion to the obstacles You prepare for me to strike my “ego,” my pride, my opinions, my rights, because it is then above all that I am terribly blind, and groping in the dark, I reject the medicine You offer. I may lack, O Lord, the means of carrying out the purification of my ego, so foolish and so proud. But nothing is lacking to You, You who are the All, and whose infinite mercy utterly surpasses my misery. I confess, O Lord, that I have often strayed like a lamb which, leaving its shepherd, has taken a wrong path. But I desire to return once more, and I come back with complete confidence because I know that You never tire of waiting and of pardoning. Here I am, Lord; I place myself in Your hands. Mortify me, purify me as You wish, for whenever You afflict, it is to heal, and wherever You mortify, life increases.
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Art for this post on the spirit of mortification: Mirror of Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.