I think Mother is having difficulty understanding my recent interest in self-mortification and I hope my good friend Damsel of the Faith does not mind if I borrow from some of her posts in order to qualify some statements.
I am uneasy with this. we are not called by Jesus to self-mortification, but to repentance and amendment of life; too often a failure to do that hard thing can lead us to over-react by mortifying the flesh.
I’m not trying to state that we should mortify the flesh. Damsel of the Faith writes in one of her posts concerning the feast of the Most Holy Rosary,
Doubtless, too, the wicked scheming and jealousy of the devil were largely responsible for getting people to neglect the Rosary, and thus block the flow of God’s grace which it had drawn upon the world.
Thus, in 1349 God punished the whole of Europe with the most terrible plague that had ever been known. Starting in the east, it spread throughout Italy, Germany, France, Poland and Hungary, bringing desolation wherever it went, for out of a hundred men hardly one lived to tell the tale. Big cities, towns, villages and monasteries were almost completely deserted during the three years that the epidemic lasted.
This scourge of God was quickly followed by two others, the heresy of the Flagellants and a tragic schism in 1376.
Later on, when these trials were over, thanks to the mercy of God, our Lady told Blessed Alan to revive the former Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. Blessed Alan was one of the Dominican Fathers at the monastery at Dinan, in Brittany. He was an eminent theologian and a famous preacher. Our Lady chose him because, since the Confraternity had originally been started in that province, it was fitting that a Dominican from the same province should have the honour of re-establishing it.
Damsel has a tendency to use extreme language and so Mother was quick to wave this off as a form of mental insanity but if one qualifies punishment as “harsh and severe treatment”, I do not think Damsel is presenting God as being demented or taking hostility on Europe for neglecting the rosary whatsoever. On the contrary, this seems more to be in line with that of what St Paul states. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” (Rom. 8:28-29) I think what Damsel seems to be trying to say is not that God was thrilled to punish the Europeans for neglecting the rosary but rather that he provided these trials to the Europeans so that ultimately, conformity to the image of his Son via devotion to the rosary could be rekindled once more in the hearts of the Europeans. Her language does seem morbid at first but I think this is what she intends to say.
One of these trials though that Damsel writes about is the heresy of the Flagellants. The Flagellants took the language of self-mortification one step too far and began brutally whipping themselves. The Catholic Church realized (as does Mother) that this self-mutilation is unhealthy and is not intended when it comes to self-mortification.
Mother of course states that self-mortification is not what is called for by our Lord but rather repentance and an amendment of life. While repentance is true, and in the book of Acts we read the word μετανοήσατε which is a change of mind or heart (but more specifically of heart as was considered the mind in ancient thought). But there is much more to the concept of this when it comes to the Gospel. The New Testament does not stop with mere repentance and an agreement to amend one’s life but the concept of the Gospel is atonement based (at-one-ment). The New Testament writers focused on a radical transformation of one’s own life into the life of Christ.
Romans 6:3-4 – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
St Paul constantly talks about a unison of our life into the very death and life of Christ.
Romans 6:8 – “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
Galatians 2:19 – “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ;”
Colossians 2:20 – “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations,”
Colossians 3:3 – “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
The rest is commentary of St John Chrysostom:
Ver. 6. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.
So putting together both the cause and the demonstration of the Resurrection which is to come. And he does not say is crucified, but is crucified with Him, so bringing baptism near to the Cross. And on this score also it was that he said above, We have been planted together in the likeness of His Death that the body of sin might be destroyed, not giving that name to this body of ours, but to all iniquity. For as he calls the whole sum of wickedness the old man, thus again the wickedness which is made up of the different parts of iniquity he calls the body of that man. And that what I am saying is not mere guesswork, hearken to Paul’s own interpretation of this very thing in what comes next. For after saying, that the body of sin might be destroyed, he adds, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For the way in which I would have it dead is not so that you should be destroyed and die, but so that you sin not. And as he goes on he makes this still clearer.
Ver. 7. For he that is dead, he says, is freed (Gr. justified) from sin.
This he says of every man, that as he that is dead is henceforth freed from sinning, lying as a dead body, so must he that has come up from baptism, since he has died there once for all, remain ever dead to sin. If then you have died in baptism, remain dead, for any one that dies can sin no more; but if you sin, you mar God’s gift. After requiring of us then heroism (Gr. philosophy) of this degree, he presently brings in the crown also, in these words.
Ver. 8. Now if we be dead with Christ.
And indeed even before the crown, this is in itself the greater crown, the partaking with our Master. But he says, I give even another reward. Of what kind is it? It is life eternal. For we believe, he says, that we shall also live with Him. And whence is this clear?
Ver. 9. That Christ being raised from the dead, dies no more.
And notice again his undauntedness, and how he makes the thing good from opposite grounds. Since then it was likely that some would feel perplexed at the Cross and the Death, he shows that this very thing is a ground for feeling confident henceforward.
For suppose not, he says, because He once died, that He is mortal, for this is the very reason of His being immortal. For His death has been the death of death, and because He did die, He therefore does not die. For even that death
Ver. 10. He died unto sin.
What does unto sin mean? It means that He was not subject even to that one, but for our sin, that He might destroy it, and cut away its sinews and all its power, therefore He died. Do you see how he affrights them? For if He does not die again, then there is no second laver, then do thou keep from all inclinableness to sin. For all this he says to make a stand against the let us do evil that good may come. Let us remain in sin that grace may abound. To take away this conception then, root and branch, it is, that he sets down all this. But in that He lives, He lives unto God, he says—that is, unchangeably, so that death has no more any dominion over Him. For if it was not through any liability to it that He died the former death, save only for the sin of others, much less will He die again now that He has done that sin away. And this he says in the Epistle to the Hebrews also, But now once, he says, in the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin by the Sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Hebrews 9:26-28 And he both points out the power of the life that is according to God, and also the strength of sin. For with regard to the life according to God, he shows that Christ shall die no more. With regard to sin, that if it brought about the death even of the Sinless, how can it do otherwise than be the ruin of those that are subject to it? And then as he had discoursed about His life; that none might say, What has that which you have been saying to do with us?
I’m not trying to advocate for a literal self-mutilation of the body nor is Damsel advocating for that when she writes in another post of hers, “The precious blood which Jesus shed when carrying the cross, points out to us the way that leads to heaven. It is no other way than that which He trod before us; the way of the cross. Jesus Himself declares: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”–Matt. 16: 24. Both the sinner and the just man must tread this bloody way; the sinner, because without mortification he is not able to overcome his passions and do penance; the just man, because without self-denial it is impossible to resist the many temptations with which all are assailed, to make progress in virtue, and to persevere in justice to the end. Let us follow Jesus on the way of the cross, let us suffer with Him, that we may be glorified with Him.–Rom. 8: 7.” Indeed, Mother will be happy to know that Damsel also prays for me that I might conquer my own cutting habits. All I am saying is that the New Testament calls for a complete renunciation of the old man that is vanquished in baptism and yet somehow has a way of turning up again even post-baptism in order to be united in total to the death and resurrection of Christ. The New Testament message of soteriology is not the acceptance that Christ died as payment for my sins but that Christ died destroying my sins so that I may join my life to his life and death thus renouncing all hints of self that lie within me in order to do this.
I am talking about a spiritual self-mortification which is the testimony of the New Testament message of salvation and has been affirmed throughout the ages, not the off-shoot Flagellant self-mortification that advocates for physical harm upon the body. That we are to join ourselves into the death of Christ thus killing off our old man and become a new creature in Christ is quite explicit in the testimony of scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. This is also called self-mortification. One need not be adverse to it but strive to join in Christ’s death and resurrection through active participation in the sacraments. As Damsel told me a while back when I first ran across her in the blogosphere, the easiest way to salvation is via the eucharist (the receival on the tongue of the body and blood of Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ).