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Should Catholics Still Practice “Mortification”?

Last modified: July 19, 2019 Avatar for Laura CraverBy Laura Craver
Should Catholics Still Practice “Mortification”?

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

st 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

holy spirit stained glass

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:

Sense Inventory

quiet place woman thinking

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.

Gratitude Rosary

holy rosary

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.

Technology Fast

smart devices

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!

Avatar for Laura Craver

Laura Craver is a work-at-home writer and a round-the-clock mom. She shares her chaotic life with Dr. High School Sweetheart and their three bright, beautiful and sleep-impaired children. Laura is passionate about kindness, shopping local, living simply, and homemade espresso.

    Maureen McMahon
    25 Aug 2018

    Thank you for such wonderful creations of adoration. Mindfulness of our Faith will help ease the discomforts we humans.

    Kevin Britton
    25 Aug 2018

    In todays society any form of self-harm is related to mental illness regardless of any intentions or motivations and should a person self flagellate whilst in care of any kind accusations of abuse come around and a massive witch hunt starts with fingers being pointed at just about anybody. Todays society is allegedly to civilised to make such sacrifices to Our Lord even though we still celebrate the torture and crucifixion of Jesus who was sent by God the Father to take away the sins of everybody who is prepared to confess and repent their sins.

    Many reading this will most likely say “everybody who was prepared…”, no you are wrong Jesus died for everybody yesterday, today and tomorrow, His death was not the end as He is with the Father in heaven listening to our prayers and waiting for people to repent and acknowledge the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are very much alive.

    For those who torture or harm themselves this is an extreme awareness of the presence of Our Lord and their way of making penance for any sins even if the sins are committed by others these individuals will happily suffer to allow Gods forgiveness to fall on those they make this sacrifice for, This gift is given by the Holy Spirit to a very small handful of people throughout history and indeed throughout the world, to truly suffer requires an extremely deep understanding of faith given by God and God alone.

    26 Aug 2018

    Love the gratitude Rosary idea. Unfortunately all too often my gratitude is observed in the wake of a tragedy, and someone else’s, at that. I am truly blessed and need to thank GOD for that as often as possible…GOD bless each and every one who reads this…

      8 Sep 2018

      I, too, was touched by this post. My late & very devout aunt told me that was how she prayed for each of us in our extended family. One of those on her prayer list ( or in her prayer”tent”) was named before each bead was prayed and I’m sure she prayed for more of us than one Rosary would allow. She is as important in my prayer life as my late parents. Beautiful examples, all. Our generation should bless the next as we have been blessed by their devotion to Our Lord & His Church. We need it now more than ever.

    8 Dec 2018

    What wonderful suggestions to deepen Faith and relationship with the Holy Spirit. Mindfulness is part of my morning prayers of gratitude, Sundays are tech-free days and Tuesday evenings are filled with Adoration, the Rosary and Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, yet, I thirst for greater Holiness and AM guilty of falling asleep during prayers.

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