Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why do we shrink from interior mortification?

last chance In her work, The Way of Perfection, St Teresa of Avila asks;

Why, then, do we shrink from interior mortification, since this is the means by which every other kind of mortification may become more meritorious and perfect, so that it can be practiced with tranquility and ease?

If we pause to reflect on our thoughts we will find that we often engage in what we might call magical or fantasy thinking.  What would my life be like if I had more money, or a different job, or if I lived somewhere else?  We might even be tempted to think, “What would my life be like if I had a different spouse?” 

I remember meeting a Christian marriage counselor who had literally worked with thousands of couples whose marriages were in distress.  From the collected experience of all these couples he told us that in most cases, “the dream or fantasy of the other lover, almost never equaled the reality.”  The grass on the other side of the fence was not really greener when you were standing in it.

St. Teresa tells us that interior mortification “consists mainly or entirely in our ceasing to care about ourselves and our own pleasures.”  We often fail to live in the moment.  We have ordered our dinner in the restaurant and then we wish we had ordered what we see on someone else’s plate. We are like children fighting over who got the biggest piece of cake.  How much easier it would be to give up the cake if we ceased to care about our own interests? 

We can mortify ourselves in many small ways. What if we purposely choose a smaller piece of dessert?  Without even being noticed, we could eat more of something we do not like, or leave out something small that accompanies what we like.  We can exercise control over our eyes.  Perhaps the most difficult task is to discipline our thoughts.  We can leave something unsaid that draws attention to ourselves.  We can do the hardest job first without procrastinating about starting it.   St. Josemaria Escriva offers a helpful piece of advice, “Choose mortifications that don't mortify others” (The Way, 17).

Of course God is not calling us to live a completely joyless life without pleasures, but our little acts of detachment help our natural loves to be ordered as God intended them. 

Holy Mary, Our Hope Seat of Wisdom,

Pray for us,


Learn more about St. Teresa this Fall in our upcoming Bishop Helmsing Institute course Writings of the Saints, which will be a book study of her work, The Interior Castle.

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