Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Mortification and Migraines

Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ said: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself. Matt. 16:24

I can't get over how quickly the time is passing. Sept. is coming to an end and with it comes an exhortation from St. Alphonsus on mortification. I know this is not a popular topic, but practicing mortification elevates a soul to God, so well worth your time to read these words from St. Alphonsus:

"Every Christian is bound to practice mortification. With regard to those things we may lawfully enjoy, mortification is not obligatory, but it is very useful and meritorious.

"If you deny your body lawful pleasures, it is not apt to seek unlawful ones; but if you indulge in all the lawful enjoyments you will soon cross the line into forbidden territory.

I love that the Lord our God is so generous with joys and pleasures of life. They are for our enjoyment, but at the same time, we may deny ourselves and make a sacrifice. St. Francis Borgia, while hunting, would cast his eyes down at the moment the falcon seized his prey, to deprive himself of the pleasure of such a sight. We too, can deny ourselves sweets or meats, and many other simple pleasures throughout the day as a discipline.

In the same way, if we suffer from chronic aches and pains, it is an opportunity to bear them without complaints. So my dear readers, if I ever complain about a migraine, remind me to offer it up. Thanks be to God, my health is vastly better now, that when the migraines do come, as they did this weekend,  it is easier to unite myself to Christ crucified and offer my suffering for the conversion of souls. 

St. Alphonsus likens mortification to having to drink bitter medicine to heal our bodies. If the physician had misplaced sympathy for his patient, it is cruelty. How well I've known this since I was a child, having to take bitter pills to clear parasitic infections. And as much as I hated my mother for shoving those pills down my throat, for the horrible side effects, over time I regained my health. Later I was grateful. But during those miserable weeks of treatment, my mother, ever patient, ever loving, sat beside me, taking my hateful words and returning them with words of comfort.

St. Alphonsus says, "It is certainly true that the world and the devil are great enemies to our salvation; but the greatest enemy of all is our own body because it is always with us." Oh, this cuts to the core ... we ourselves are our own worst enemies. We are attached to our thoughts, our tongues, our hands. Ouchie ... it's a constant battle to gain self-mastery.

So what are the advantages of mortification? St. Alphonsus says, "By mortification we may expiate the temporal punishment due to our sins." Tell yourself it is a little purgatory. "Mortification raises the soul to God."

"It is proper to animals to gratify their senses; it is characteristic of angels to do the Will of God ... we become like angels when we strive to do God's Will, but we become like animals when we seek to gratify our senses. Either the soul must subject the body or the body will make the soul its slave."

I have focused too much on exterior mortification, but there is such a thing as interior mortification. St. Alphonsus says, "it consists in restraining our inordinate self-love and self-will."

Although our sinful nature makes it impossible to be completely free from self-love, we can keep it in check. Pray this: "O God, do not let me fall prey to my passions, which rob me of Thy holy fear and of reason itself."

St. Alphonsus reminds us: "Man's life on earth is a warfare (Job 7:1). He who encounters an enemy in battle must have his weapons in hand to defend himself; if he neglects to fight, he is lost. No matter how many victories we may have won, we cannot afford to lay down our arms; for our passions, in spite of repeated defeats, are never entirely destroyed." They are like weeds that crop up again and again even if think we've cut them from the roots.

This is why I have Ephesians 6:11-20 taped on my kitchen cabinet. We're talking spiritual warfare here: Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.


Mirka Breen said...

With Yom Kippur coming soon, I, your Jewish reader, can well understand what you wrote here. As my grandma would have said, "how would you know you were happy if you were never sad?"

Faith E. Hough said...

That passage from Ephesians always gives me chills...
You write with so much wisdom!
And I love Mirka's comment, too. Her grandmother must have been what mine would have called a "smart cookie."

barbarahartzler.com said...

Interesting idea about offering mortification up to God. Timely, too because I had my first author speaking event this weekend even though I'm severely afraid of public speaking! There were parts that didn't go as planned and I did feel mortified. But afterward the bishop of the church hosting the event asked for an article version of my talk on angels in YA lit. That was definitely a God thing! :)

I also loved what you wrote about offering our suffering up to God. I still suffer side effects from a painful work injury to my hands, even though I'm a writer. It honestly puts all of that in a new light for me!

Thanks for being so open on this subject. It really spoke to me. :)

Vijaya said...

Oh, Mirka, sometimes the sins against Our Father is what brings me to tears. Your grandmother sound so much like my mother.

Faith, I came upon that passage fairly early during RCIA and it made me realize what a cosmic battle we fight. Powers and principalities. Come ye holy angels. And you give me too much credit -- this is all from my dear St. Alphonsus whom I've grown to love over this year.

Barbara, it sounds like you had a very successful event despite the mortification. I am so grateful you have a greater insight into suffering. Without it, I know I wouldn't be as dependent and close to God as I am now. Praise God!