That Mortification Is Especially Necessary for Religious, Particularly for Such as Have to Do with Their Neighbor

by admin on February 19, 2012

THIS practice of mortification is proper to all the servants of God, and all have need of it in order every day to fall in with the will of God. But particularly is it proper to religious, for we renounced the world and came into reli­gion for this purpose; and this is what St. Benedict says, that to be a religious is to change and alter one’s habits. Promitto conversionem morum meorum. This is what we profess in religion and this is what we must continue doing by mortification, to strip ourselves of the old man and put on the new, as St. Paul says (Col. iii. 9).  And so St. Ber­nard said to those who were entering religion: “See that the spirit only enter here and the body be left outside;” giving them to understand that in religion our object must not be to gratify our body and live according to its appe­tites and inclinations, but all our care must be for the soul and the spirit, according to that saying of the Apostle: Walk according to the spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the desires of the flesh (Gal. v. 16). This it is to walk in the spirit—a thing so recommended and desired by the servants of God—to live according to the better part of ourselves, which is the spirit and reason, and not according to the inferior part, which is the flesh and sensuality. Cassian says that it was the common agreement and tradition of those ancient Fathers, and one much borne out by experi­ence, that a man could not advance, nor even stay long in religion, unless he set about in earnest to mortify his will and appetites, for these are very contrary to the standard which obtains in religion.

While this is very befitting for all religious, it is most of all necessary to those of us whose institute brings us across our neighbor. St. Chrysostom very well proves that mortification of the passions is most necessary for those who for the help of their neighbor dwell and converse in the midst of towns; for in them those wild beasts (so he calls our passions) find much more food to sustain them in the great occasions which arise there. The soldier who never takes the field may dissemble his weakness; but, when he takes the field, he shows what he is. So, says St. Chrysos­tom, he who stays in his corner hides his faults; but he who goes out to wrestle with the world and to be a spectacle to it must needs be a man of distinguished virtue and mortification.

Further, to gain over those with whom we deal, it is necessary to accommodate ourselves and throw ourselves into their attitude, so far as is possible, according to that saying of the Apostle: I made myself all things to all men, that I might save all (I Cor. ix. 22).   It is easily seen how much mortification is necessary for this.   Philosophers say that the pupil of the eye, the part where the impressions of all color are received and vision is formed, has not any color.   And so it was necessary that it should be in order that it might be capable of receiving in itself the impres­sions of all colors and seeing them all as they are; for if it were of any color, it could perceive no color but that: Intus existens prohibet externum—”What is within shuts out what is without.”   If it were green, all that it saw would seem to us green; and if it were pink, all would appear to us pink.  Thus it is necessary for you to set aside your natural temper and have your passions in complete mortification and be quite master of yourself in order that other people’s tempers may find toleration and acceptance in you, and you may be able to deal with and accommodate yourself to all to gain all, as St. Paul did.   It is not the spirit of religion, nor of perfection, to tie yourself to those of your own tem­perament and humor, so that, because you are choleric, you fit in only with the choleric; or because you are phlegmatic, you set your face against the choleric; and much less would it be the spirit of perfection and religion to tie yourself to those of your own nation.   Would you not take it for a mis­fortune to have eyes that could see only one color?   But a much greater misfortune is it to have a will so petty and ill conditioned as to be inclined only to those of your own nation or of your own natural temperament.      Charity embraces all because it loves its neighbor for God and the sake of God; and thus it makes no difference between barbarian or Scythian, or any other sort of people. Where there is no gentile nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian nor Scythian, but Christ is all their good, and Christ is in all (Col. iii. 11). Charity would fain find place in its heart for all because it regards all as sons of God and brethren of Christ. For this it may readily be seen what need there is for mortification.

Besides this, mortification is very necessary to preserve amongst us that union and fraternal charity, so much com­mended to us by Christ our Redeemer, Who would have us thereby known for His disciples (John xiii. 35). What makes war on this union and fraternal charity is self-seek­ing, looking after one’s own tastes and conveniences, one’s own honor and reputation. Let anyone enter into himself and he will see that every time he fails in charity, it is through seeking and striving after something of that sort or wanting not to lose it and yield it to another. Now mor­tification it is that rids us of all that and smooths the way for charity, which seeketh not her own (I Cor. xiii. 5). And so says St. Ambrose: “Whoever wishes to please and give satisfaction to all, must seek in all things not his own util­ity and profit, but the utility and profit of his brethren, as the Apostle did,” and admonishes us to do. Take no account of your own interests, but of what is convenient for others (Phil. ii. 4).

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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