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“Ask a Priest: Should We Be Practicing Extreme Mortification?”
Q: A priest at Mass was talking about mortification. He spoke of Saint Rose of Lima whose feast day it was. Saint Rose used to rub her face with lye and live in a small room she couldn’t stand up in. I know that if I started practicing mortification the way the saints did hundreds of years ago, I might be put in a psychiatric ward. Some of the saints practiced severe mortification. This priest also didn’t clarify what specific mortification to practice, but he did highly suggest doing so. I feel a little uncomfortable hearing that I should practice mortification to begin with. I thought we didn’t need to do anything to win God’s love. Thank you. – W.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Mortification has been a standard part of Catholic piety. It is a way of making reparation for our sins and for the conversion of others.
We all sin, which means we all incur a debt of temporal punishment that needs to be paid, even apart from the sacrament of confession.
True, God loves us no matter what. But it’s because of his love that he wants us to be holier — and one step toward that end can be mortification, for love of him and for sorrow for our sins.
As a few commentators have noted, some of the mortifications of the saints of the past are more to be admired than imitated.
So, you shouldn’t consider Saint Rose’s peculiar practices as the norm for the rest of us.
A more practical form of mortification is to never complain about anything. Learn to offer up the little and big crosses of daily life with patience and humility.
If you want to practice a specific kind of mortification, think about offering up a sacrifice at each meal — less sugar in the coffee, a smaller piece of pie, etc.
If ever you feel inspired to do a tough mortification, it would be good to check first with your confessor or spiritual director. That can help ensure that you don’t go overboard.
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