Of Holy Hatred of Oneself, and the Spirit of Mortification and Penance That Is Born of It

by admin on April 10, 2011


IF we consider well what has been said, that will be enough to engender in us that hatred and holy abhorrence of ourselves which Christ our Redeemer commends to us so much in His holy Gospel, saying that without it we can­not be His disciples. If any man cometh to me, and hateth not . . . yea even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple (Luke xiv. 26). What is more necessary to this end than to know that our body is the greatest opponent and enemy that we have—a mortal enemy, the greatest traitor that ever has been seen, who goes about seeking the death, yea, the everlasting death, of him who gives him to eat and sup­plies all his necessities; who for a little pleasure thinks nothing of defying God and casting the soul into hell for ever and ever? If they told anyone: “Know that one of your household, and of those who eat and drink at your table, is plotting treason to kill you,” what fear would that inspire? And if they said: “Know further that so great is the hatred and enmity that he bears against you that he is quite ready to accept death if only he can kill you; he knows well that thereupon they are sure at once to seize him and put him to death; nevertheless, he is minded to risk his own life to take away yours;” how would the man hearing that be struck with fear and sudden alarms at din­ner, at going to bed, at all hours, lest his enemy might come then and give him a blow that might prove fatal! And if he could discover who the traitor was, what hatred would he conceive and what vengeance would he take on him! Now this is our body, which eats and sleeps with us and knows very well that in doing harm to our soul it is doing harm also to itself and in casting the soul into hell it must go there with it; and nevertheless, to gratify its own taste, ventures all and sticks at nothing. See if we have not rea­son to abhor it! How many times has this your enemy made a place for you in hell! How many times has it made you offend that Infinite Goodness! Of how many spiritual blessings has it deprived you! How often does it put your salvation in danger every hour! Who, then, will not be indignant and conceive a holy anger against one who has done him so much harm, deprived him of so much good, and thrown him into so many dangers every hour! If we abhor the devil and hold him for our deadly enemy for the war he makes on us and the harm he does us, our flesh is a still greater enemy, for it makes on us a more cruel and a more continual war; and there is very little that the devils could do, if they did not find on their side this flesh and sensuality to aid them in making war upon us.

This is what made the saints have such a hatred and abhorrence of themselves; hence there sprang up in them that great spirit of mortification and penance to avenge themselves on this their enemy and keep him subject and submissive. This made them go always in fear of giving any satisfaction and comfort to their body, thinking that this was to supply arms to their enemy, and that he might thereby gather force and strength to do them harm. St. Augustine says: “Let us not aid nor give strength to the body, lest it make war on the spirit”—Ne praebeamus vires illicitas corpori nostro, ne committat bellum adversus spir-itum nostrum. And mortify it that it may not get the upper hand. As the Wise Man says: “He that bringeth up a servant daintily from childhood, mil afterwards find him rebellious (Prov. xxix. 21).

The holy monks of old went so assiduously about this exercise, making it their aim to mortify and diminish the strength of this enemy, that, when other means sufficed not, they undertook excessive bodily labors to subdue and break in their body—as Palladius tells of a monk who, when much fatigued with thoughts of vanity and pride which he could not shake off, bethought him of taking a basket and carry­ing on his shoulders a great heap of earth from place to place. Being asked why he did that, he replied: “I am vex­ing him who vexes me.” The same is told of St. Macarius; and of St. Dorotheus it is related that he did penance and much afflicted his body. Once someone, seeing him so hard worked, asked him: “Why do you thus torment your body?” He replied, “Because it is at drawn daggers with me.” The glorious St. Bernard, kindling with holy hatred and anger against his body as against his deadly enemy, said: “Let God arise; let this armed enemy fall; let him fall and be crushed, this foe, this despiser of God, this lover of him­self, this friend of the world, this slave of the devil. What think you ? Certainly, if you think aught, you will say with me, ‘He is guilty of death; let him be crucified, let him be crucified!'”

With this force and energy we must go to work mortify­ing our flesh and bringing it into subjection that it may not rise to a consequence to which it is not entitled and drag with it the spirit and the reason, especially since, once this enemy is conquered, the devil also will be conquered. As the devils make war upon us and try to overcome us, using our flesh as their instrument, so we should make war upon the devils and overcome them by mortifying it and contradicting it. St. Augustine on these words: I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty, I so fight, not as one beat­ing the air, but I chastise my body and bring it into subjec­tion (I Cor. ix. 26), well advises us: “Chastise, then, your body; mortify your passions and evil inclinations, and in this manner you will overcome the devils, for in this way Paul teaches us to fight them.” When a captain who is on the frontier of the Moors goes to make a sudden attack on them, any Moor that he holds prisoner he claps into the dungeon and leaves him there in irons that he may not rise up against him and assist his enemies; this is what we must do, subjecting and mortifying our flesh, that it may not join the party of our enemies.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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