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The What and Why of Mortification
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The best description of mortification was given by Our Lord. He said to His disciples, If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mat 16:24).
Mortification, therefore, is self-denial. And self-denial is doing the will of God, even when the Divine will crosses at right angles to our will. Mortification is the imitation of Christ in the surrender of what we naturally like in order to please God.
Self-Denial to Make Up for Past Sins
There is one big difference, however, between our mortification and the self-denial that Christ practiced in doing the will of His Father. We are sinners who must practice mortification to make up in greater generosity to God for our failure to love Him as we should have in the past. We are sinners who must expiate our sinful self-indulgence by giving up creatures we might otherwise lawfully enjoy.
More than Important
Mortification is not only important, it is necessary. Why?
Patience and Faithfulness
We can practice mortification by giving up some delicacy in food or drink, or some pleasure that we could legitimately have. But we also practice mortification every time we patiently accept whatever trial or pain He sends us, and every time we faithfully carry out whatever His mysterious providence commands of us.
It is this second kind of mortification that Jesus had in mind when He told us that anyone who loses his life for my sake, will find it (Mat. 16:25).
The Key to Heaven
If we are willing to mortify (literally cause death to) our self-will in this world, we shall gain eternal life in the world to come. On these terms, only mortified people will enter Heaven.
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