Thursday, February 4, 2010


The Catholic Church has a rich tradition, and a long and colorful history. It also has an extensive vocabulary of unique and interesting words. Words such as catechesis, pontifical, vocation, and purgatory, may not be copyrighted or trademarked by the Church, but they are certainly more likely to show up in a papal encyclical than a People magazine. In my free time I have, personally, been pondering my own understanding of Catholic vocabulary. I have been, specifically, giving a lot of thought to the term "mortification". It is, in my experience, one of those "Catholic words" that though I probably heard it growing up, I am just beginning to try to understand.
In my quest to better grasp the idea of mortification I started with the dictionary. When looking it up I found two definitions. The first definition stated plainly, "the practice of asceticism by penitential discipline to overcome desire for sin and to strengthen the will". That wasn't quite plain enough for me. The second definition, "discipline of the body and the appetites by self-denial or self-inflicted privation," was slightly easier to comprehend without an advanced degree in theology. After a little thought I came up with my own definition. To me, mortification means to deny myself some sort of worldly comfort or worldly desire in an effort to grow in virtue and holiness. Fasting is one example of mortification.
I love the idea of growing in virtue and holiness. I am not quite so fond of the idea of self deprivation. I like my worldly comforts and wish I could surround myself with all that makes me feel good and still be holy and virtuous. I have tried to achieve true holiness without giving up a single comfort but it hasn't worked. Unfortunately, the more I try to ensure my own comfort the farther I seem to fall from holiness. I am just too busy trying to keep up with my worldly distractions to ever get around to being virtuous. So, at least in my experience, the Church is right about mortification. I do need some sort of ... "penitential discipline to overcome the desire for sin and to strengthen the will." If I can undertake a little mortification, a little self imposed suffering and sacrifice, maybe I can be strengthened to avoid sinfulness and to be open to God's will. If I can get used to doing without all that I want maybe there will be more room in my life for God to work. If I am more accustom to living without some comforts maybe I can be more at peace when things in life do not go the way I want and maybe, just maybe, I can start to handle life's challenges with more holiness.
I am starting small. I will try to offer up just one little sacrifice each day. Through God's grace and my modest efforts, I am hoping to be truly mortified!

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