Fasting, flagellation, hair shirts and more! Saintly mortification has earned a reputation for being a bit bizarre, but it may be more relevant than you think.
Although I was well beyond the cradle when I discovered Catholicism, I’m not new to the sacrifices of the saints. I had the privilege of studying Theology at a well-known Catholic university. It was there that I enjoyed learning the stories of saints throughout the ages. I loved learning about how they discovered the treasure of the Church, and how they worked toward heaven. They all faced various hurdles along the way.
There was just one hold-up. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the mystics and the “mortifying” saints. Sure, everyone expresses love and devotion in different ways. But the hair-shirt wearing, crown-of-thorns fashioning ascetics always seemed a bit odd to me. It wasn’t until this week that I decided to give these saints and their mortification another look.
Saint Rose of Lima
Saint Rose of Lima was an ascetic who lived in Peru in the mid 1500s. She was beautiful and loved by many. But she chose a life of solitude out of devotion to Christ. Her devout life allowed her to become the first person from the Americas to be canonized by the Church. Besides isolation, Rose disfigured her face with pepper scrubs. She even wore a studded silver circlet on her head – her own crown of thorns.
According to Franciscan Media, excessive mortification is “more for admiration than for imitation.” Serious sacrifice is born out of passionate love for Christ. The memory of the saints are there to inspire us, but not everyone is called to a life of intense mortification. It’s up to you to decide when and how you unite your sufferings to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.
Rose performed “mundane” mortification and sacrifices as well. She worked in the garden and sewed through the day and night. Rose even submitted to her parents when they refused to let her enter the convent. She honored her deepest desire by remaining single and celibate. Spending most of her time alone at home, Rose lived a semi-cloistered life.
Despite isolating herself, Rose did not alienate those around her. Towards the end of her life, she opened her home to care for people in need. In fact, many people cared about her and her funeral was well attended.
Making room for the Holy Spirit
In a conversation about mortification in today’s world, mindfulness is a topic worth talking about. Mindfulness is a mental health practice that is gaining popularity across generations. It calls us to turn down the mental, physical, and emotional noise around us. Being mindful makes it easier to focus on exactly what’s happening, right here, right now. We live in a world of constant stimulation and it’s difficult to set aside our daily responsibilities, anxieties and diversions to focus on the present. When we feel out of touch with real life, Heaven can feel impossibly far away.
This is why it’s important to take a step back and root ourselves fully in the present moment. Mindfulness allows you to strip away everything extra and examine your current state: the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. Take time to listen, breathe, acknowledge your joys and fears. Examine your comfort or discomfort and offer it up to God, allowing Him to fill every aspect of your life.
While it’s not as glamorous as wearing a crown of thorns, this practice is a great way to root out the clutter inside your mind and heart to make room for the Holy Spirit. Practicing mindfulness is a way to stay in touch with God and invite his goodness, light, love to flow through you. The joy and peace it brings is contagious, transforming the world around you one soul at a time.
Looking for practical ways to fit mindfulness into your busy schedule? Give one of these four ideas a spin:
How it’s done: Find a comfortable place where you feel safe and relaxed. Make yourself at home, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Settle into the moment and dismiss any distractions. Once you feel as ease, focus on one sense at a time. What can you hear? How about your sense of smell? What can you feel?
Why it works: This quick mental reset is so simple, you can use it any time, anywhere. It puts you in touch with the physical reality God gave you and allows you to recognize your valuable place on earth. Remember, God put you here for a reason. Take a moment to give thanks and ask for grace to face the challenges ahead.
How it’s done: The rules for this practice aren’t set in stone, so find a way that works for you. Move through the beads of the rosary, saying something that you’re grateful for on each bead. Simple enough, but it might be harder than you think to come up with something new for every bead. Get creative and discover some new joys in your life along the way.
Why it works: If you’re anything like me, you might imitate St. Therese often by falling asleep during prayers. The rosary does me in every time. A friend suggested a gratitude rosary years ago and I fell in love with the simple, novel prayers . I liked it so much, I stayed awake for the whole thing. This is a great way to learn about someone new, or to bond with an old friend.
How it’s done: Unplug your smartphone and stash your tablet. Ditch screen time for a day, a week, maybe even a month. You get to decide the time frame. In the meantime, use your newfound freedom to volunteer, meet with friends, or try out a new hobby.
Why it works: A technology fast is a new spin on an ancient tradition. Saints throughout the ages have fasted from food, companionship, and more as a way of uniting their sufferings with Christ. Tech fasting has the added benefit of calming the constant channel of feedback that has a habit of distracting us from the divine.
Meditation in Adoration
How it’s done: Find your local adoration times and take an hour to sit in the presence of God. Quiet your mind and body and clear out any negative thoughts or feelings that are cluttering your mind. Invite the holy spirit to fill you with light and love, and rejoice in a newfound peace.
Why it works: Meditation is a way to clear out anxieties to make room for Christ. Adoration gilds meditation with the glory of God’s presence. There really is nothing better!