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Hardcore Penances And The Saints

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DominicanPhilosophy
So, in reading [i]The Life of St. Catherine of Siena[/i] as told by Bl. Raymond of Capua, I'm hitting the part of the book where the intense penances and mortifications of St. Catherine are described. As awesome as I think she is, it's kind of freaking me out to read this. I really do love St. Catherine, and I can relate to her in many ways, but whenever I read about saints who do these extreme mortifications (whipping oneself to the point of bleeding, wearing unhealthily-tight iron chains, utilizing wood plank beds, little to no sleep/food and drink, etc.), I get a bit put-off by the idea. I try to "offer up" things in day-to-day life, but, as one Sister I know put it, "These days, we have so many trials already; we don't need to make it any harder on ourselves than it already is [to be holy]." I tend to agree with her statement. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/blink.gif[/img]

[b]I was wondering if anyone else has had the same thoughts as me regarding extreme penances and mortifications. Is it wrong to disagree with these practices, even if they were the practices of some of our great models of faith?[/b] I desire to live and love for God, but I [i]don't[/i] desire (or feel called) to willingly harm myself in the process; I just don't see myself showing love by self-destructive behavior. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/ohno.gif[/img]

Again, there's no doubt that St. Catherine of Siena was/is an outstanding model of faith for us, but I just don't see the point in - or the theological reasoning behind - physically harming or neglecting oneself. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/unsure.gif[/img] [b]Any insight?
[/b]
+JMJD

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Theoketos
Perhaps you ought to repost this the Serious Spirituality forum. And there are people to whom the Lord has given even greater penances than St. Catherine alive today.

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Lil Red
[quote name='DominicanPhilosophy' date='08 January 2010 - 10:36 PM' timestamp='1263015388' post='2033063']
So, in reading [i]The Life of St. Catherine of Siena[/i] as told by Bl. Raymond of Capua, I'm hitting the part of the book where the intense penances and mortifications of St. Catherine are described. As awesome as I think she is, it's kind of freaking me out to read this. I really do love St. Catherine, and I can relate to her in many ways, but whenever I read about saints who do these extreme mortifications (whipping oneself to the point of bleeding, wearing unhealthily-tight iron chains, utilizing wood plank beds, little to no sleep/food and drink, etc.), I get a bit put-off by the idea. I try to "offer up" things in day-to-day life, but, as one Sister I know put it, "These days, we have so many trials already; we don't need to make it any harder on ourselves than it already is [to be holy]." I tend to agree with her statement. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/blink.gif[/img]

[b]I was wondering if anyone else has had the same thoughts as me regarding extreme penances and mortifications. Is it wrong to disagree with these practices, even if they were the practices of some of our great models of faith?[/b] I desire to live and love for God, but I [i]don't[/i] desire (or feel called) to willingly harm myself in the process; I just don't see myself showing love by self-destructive behavior. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/ohno.gif[/img]

Again, there's no doubt that St. Catherine of Siena was/is an outstanding model of faith for us, but I just don't see the point in - or the theological reasoning behind - physically harming or neglecting oneself. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/unsure.gif[/img] [b]Any insight?
[/b]
+JMJD
[/quote]
+JMJ+
If I could offer just my small thoughts about this. I compare mortifications and penances to be growing in love with the Lord.

when you enter into a relationship with someone, you want to know all you can about them and what they like - so you spend hours and hours learning about them, their history, what they do for fun -right? well, there can become a point in your relationship with that person that things may become stagnant (i say this as a married woman of almost 8 years), so you start to try to go deeper in your relationship, to see what more you can do for this person.

so it is with our relationship with God. :ohno: i know i'm not explaining it well. i really shouldn't post at night! i know that i am starting to grow deeper in my relationship more with God, and i want to do more for Him, i want to show Him how much I love him, how much i really want to be with Him in heaven. i want to pray all the time! i want to do so much for Him, but I know that it is a matter of temperance. it has taken me years to get to this stage in my relationship with God (for others it may be shorter!), where i do hunger for doing so much more for God.

:idontknow:

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nunsense
There is an interesting book that might help you understand this kind of penance from a psychological as well as spiritual perspective - it is called [i]The Mystic Mind (The Psychology of Medieval Mystics and Ascetics)[/i] by Jerome Kroll and Bernard Bachrach. The authors are a professor of psychiatry and a historian so they are not looking at this from a religious perspective, but I found it quite balanced in its approach, and it is good to see what non-Catholics think about this kind of thing.

Personally, I think that one has to be "called" to this kind of penance, as not all the saints participated in it, and not all Catholics today feel an attraction to it. It has not died out however and there are many people who feel that offering up certain types of suffering can help to unite them with the suffering Christ, as well as being of benefit to the Church and souls. Opus Dei are a case in point, but many cloistered monasteries today still do some form of physical penance, and the Missionaries of Charity also do. The 1991s Carmelites do not use the discipline any more, but the 1990s still do. And they do other mortifications as well. The thing about penances, I have found, is that one should always keep them very private, only disclosing them to one's spiritual director, and always being guided by their director as to frequency and intensity. Otherwise they can become a source of subtle spiritual pride and lead to temptations that take one away from God, rather than towards Him. Obedience is a much better penance than any other physical penance, and that is why direction is of vital importance when performing anything of this nature.

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Lil Red
[quote name='nunsense' date='16 January 2010 - 10:39 PM' timestamp='1263706752' post='2038962']The thing about penances, I have found, is that one should always keep them very private, only disclosing them to one's spiritual director, and always being guided by their director as to frequency and intensity. Otherwise they can become a source of subtle spiritual pride and lead to temptations that take one away from God, rather than towards Him. Obedience is a much better penance than any other physical penance, and that is why direction is of vital importance when performing anything of this nature.[/quote]
+JMJ+
thank you for this. :)

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laetitia crucis
Ah! I was hoping this would be moved here! Thanks, Lil Red!

So, back when this was posted in the Q&A I wrote a response to this and PMed it to DominicanPhilosophy, but I guess I just wanted to put it out here, too.

:busted_blue: Warning: It's quite verbose. :blush:

[spoiler]
I saw your post yesterday on the Q&A board and have been pondering this very question for quite some time now, especially in regards to my own discernment with various religious communities. Since I'm not a "Church Scholar" I can't post my ponderings there, so I hope you don't mind this message instead! (Warning -- It's a long one!) And please note that I am definitely no expert on this topic!! These are just my own thoughts and insights that I wanted to share with you.

When I first became Roman Catholic (about six years ago) I remember being in awe by the extreme penances of the saints -- saints like Catherine of Siena and Padre Pio. As a convert I found myself very much drawn to the Passion of Christ, especially to His intense sufferings. I began reading and learning about saints who practiced those penances and mortifications to grow closer to Christ in His Passion, to partake in His redemptive suffering. And of course, practically speaking, those penances and mortifications were/are also done to mortify one's senses.

Though, I suppose what you were asking about is the necessity for that EXTREME type of penance... like Catherine, Padre Pio, Teresa of Avila, etc. were known for. "Beating" themselves bloody and the like...

One Dominican Sister I know said a similar thing to what the Sister you know said:

"These days, we have so many trials already; we don't need to make it any harder on ourselves than it already is [to be holy]." -- but in addition the Sister I know added that many saints that did practice these extreme penances would say, "God has called ME to this penance and mortification. It is part of MY vocation. He doesn't ask this of everyone." I think one of those saints was an early Dominican (Bl. Raymond?) and another was St. Philip Neri.

I guess it boils down to that specific vocation of each person.

Hmmm...

I know for a fact that the Franciscans of the Immaculate take the discipline EVERY night (unless it's a Solemnity). They also wear wool habits and sandals always, take their meals kneeling at table on Fridays, kneel for prayer 5+ hrs a day, and each night they kneel ON THEIR HANDS praying three "Ave Maria"s for purity after Compline. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they wear hairshirts or those pointy chains around their waists. They also sleep on elevated wood planks/boards for their beds. (If after all, they are the Order of Penitents and take penance and mortification quite seriously. However, if any sister/friar has serious health issues, like back or knee problems (or anything else that would make their penances dangerous) then there can be exceptions made to their practices. For the Franciscans of the Immaculate, their life of redemptive suffering (and Franciscan JOY, of course! -- which is abundant!) is part of their vocation.

The community I was with also took the discipline, but once a week and for the period of one decade of the Rosary. Many sisters also wore an iron chain around their waists and slept with boards on top of their mattresses. Besides the once-a-week discipline in community, everything else was always done [i]privately[/i]. (The sister had to ask permission from her spiritual director and then from her superior.)

Anyhoo.. I suppose I'm rambling a bit here -- my apologies! :blush:

In regards to your questions:

[quote]I was wondering if anyone else has had the same thoughts as me regarding extreme penances and mortifications. Is it wrong to disagree with these practices, even if they were the practices of some of our great models of faith?[/quote]

I don't think it's wrong to disagree with these practices. After all, there are MANY saints that didn't practice any of those extremes of penances and mortifications, right? :saint: :)

However, I will say that I've heard many others also say similar things as to, "but we already have SO many trials living day-to-day life -- isn't it enough?" To that I can't help but think of the trials "of the day" that Catherine of Siena, or Padre Pio, or Rose of Lima, or Teresa of Avila, or Ignatius of Loyola (etc, etc) went through. Sure, we have to deal with a lot these days, but I don't know if it was really exponentially worse than what they dealt with, you know? And they still felt called to do those penances. Even in the time of Chaucer... people believed it was part of their "Christian duty" to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral on their knees. I don't think you'd ever see something like that from "commoners" these days.

One of my friends that is now a Sister of Life had a lot of questions regarding physical mortifications and penances when I told her about the life of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. :hehe: She was actually [s]pretty[/s] really disturbed about the penitential aspect. And probably thought I was crazy for discerning with them.

The way I tried to explain it... well, theologically or philosophically speaking, humans are rational creatures that first know the world through our senses. It is true that because of the gift of our intellect and will we can overcome many "sensual" temptations or obstacles in our lives, but to do so we must conquer our senses. :sword:

Our passions and our senses are part of our "lower functioning/nature/faculties" so to say. Our intellect and will are part of our "higher functioning/nature/faculties." It is [i]through[/i] our senses that we are able to obtain the objects of our intellect and will, which are truth and good respectively. Yet, because of Original Sin our lower functions are out of balance. Our passions can get the best of at times because even though we may [i]know[/i] something is wrong and not want to succumb to it, those tricky passions can sometimes override our reasoning. Right? (Like taking that extra scoop of ice cream and eating it even though you know you shouldn't and physically can't handle it.)

So, how do we try to keep our passions and sensible nature in line? Just willing it? (That would be an AWESOME grace! For those that can do that.. wow, seriously.. what a grace to have!) No, we need help. It's kind of like a "preventative method" of help... we conquer our dislike of physical pain (like running that extra five minutes on the treadmill or wearing that annoying and uncomfortable chain around our waists) to strengthen our ability to conquer spiritual discomforts and temptations. We mortify our sense of taste by eating things we wouldn't generally want to eat, or our senses of sight and hearing by not watching/listening to immoral shows, etc. Thus, we are better able to overcome the temptations of Satan, especially the temptations of the flesh.

We do these things to strengthen our spiritual defense and spiritual powers (the intellect and will). We are body and soul united, therefore we must build up both in strength and defense. :shield: They are connected in such a way that when we falter sensibly, it has an effect on us spiritually, and vice versa.

For example (a very small example, but it's something that always stayed with me from class): when some people lose their temper with road rage or from stubbing their toes and get angry, their faces turn red, their blood pressure goes up, and sometimes they say not-so-nice things. Intellectually they know (or maybe some may not know.. :lol: ) that there's no reason to be angry for what just happened, yet they can't control their reactions. They let their passions and senses take charge over their reason. They could have let reason guide them and not gotten angry (nor do anything else that followed), but they didn't have the strength of will to follow through rationally. However, if one is accustomed to mortifying their senses maybe they would have had the strength to better "offer up" that pain and annoyance whether from the road rage or stubbed toe.

Hmmm.... I hope that made sense... :scatchhead:

Basically, I think of temporal penances and mortifications as a way of strengthening our will to overcome not only sensible temptations, but especially spiritual temptations. :yes: Starting with our lower faculties we are able to build firm foundations for which to strengthen and defend our higher faculties.

And to reiterate: I do not necessarily think that this should involve beating ourselves bloody.. unless you know without a doubt that God has called you to that level of penance and mortification, and you've received permission from a Church authority. (I thank God I've not been called to that level... :sweat: )


P.S. -- I remember reading this part in a biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola that I think maybe you'd find enjoyable. Here's what I remember of it (not verbatim, of course!):

After his conversion, Ignatius had decided to live extremely penitentially (to make up for the sins of his past life). This included going barefoot everywhere, letting his hair and fingernails grow out, and spending an extended period of time living in a cave (in Manressa, Spain). And he vowed to himself to eat only herbs with the exception of a piece of hard rye bread once a week. People thought he was ka-raay-zee. But they also thought he was super-holy. :saint: (Not that these two things always go hand-in-hand because well... I think it could totally be taken way out to the nut house, especially without permission from a spiritual director.) His confessor knew he was doing these things and approved. HOWEVER, there was one thing he didn't approve of -- that was Igantius' penance of beating himself on the chest with huge rocks in reparation for his sinful life. His confessor told him, "Inigo, if you continue to do this I will no longer confess you or see you! Out of holy obedience, I command you to stop it." And even though this was probably an even bigger act of penance for him, he did.

P.S.S. -- Maybe moving posting your question in "Transmundane Lane" could get some replies? I know I'd definitely be interested in knowing others' thoughts. :nerd: :D

[/spoiler]

If you made it through that, here's some tacos, so very tasty and good for you, for you! :taco: :taco: :taco:

* Edited to add MORE tacos, so very tasty and good for you,! Edited by laetitia crucis

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Tridenteen
[quote name='DominicanPhilosophy' date='09 January 2010 - 12:36 AM' timestamp='1263015388' post='2033063']
So, in reading [i]The Life of St. Catherine of Siena[/i] as told by Bl. Raymond of Capua, I'm hitting the part of the book where the intense penances and mortifications of St. Catherine are described. As awesome as I think she is, it's kind of freaking me out to read this. I really do love St. Catherine, and I can relate to her in many ways, but whenever I read about saints who do these extreme mortifications (whipping oneself to the point of bleeding, wearing unhealthily-tight iron chains, utilizing wood plank beds, little to no sleep/food and drink, etc.), I get a bit put-off by the idea. I try to "offer up" things in day-to-day life, but, as one Sister I know put it, "These days, we have so many trials already; we don't need to make it any harder on ourselves than it already is [to be holy]." I tend to agree with her statement. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/blink.gif[/img]

[b]I was wondering if anyone else has had the same thoughts as me regarding extreme penances and mortifications. Is it wrong to disagree with these practices, even if they were the practices of some of our great models of faith?[/b] I desire to live and love for God, but I [i]don't[/i] desire (or feel called) to willingly harm myself in the process; I just don't see myself showing love by self-destructive behavior. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/ohno.gif[/img]

Again, there's no doubt that St. Catherine of Siena was/is an outstanding model of faith for us, but I just don't see the point in - or the theological reasoning behind - physically harming or neglecting oneself. [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/unsure.gif[/img] [b]Any insight?
[/b]
+JMJD
[/quote]


JMJ
I don't think any priests I know would let anyone do that mortifying penace at all! [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/club.gif[/img]

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nunsense
[quote name='Tridenteen' date='18 January 2010 - 09:43 AM' timestamp='1263768186' post='2039311']
JMJ
I don't think any priests I know would let anyone do that mortifying penace at all! [img]http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/public/style_emoticons/default/club.gif[/img]
[/quote]


St John of the Cross (who did physical penances himself) said that physical penances were the penances of beasts. It isn't that he totally disagreed with them, just that people think they should injure themselves physically for love of God but they fail to do the slightest interior mortifications at all. These are much harder to do, and until one is able to do these, all the physical ones in the world are useless. Anyone can whip themselves. Disturbed young girls cut themselves with razors - and many people are into sado-masochism. Some physical penances can also be seen as a substitute sexual release. So this whole area needs to be handled only with the guidance of a very good spiritual director, or at least one's confessor, if it isn't to been seen as some kind of psychiatric disturbance and end up causing scandal and confusion to others.

Best to start with denying oneself things that are enjoyable (such as favorite foods) or doing things that not enjoyable, such as getting up earlier to pray, or being kind to someone that we don't particularly like. St Therese describes this very well in her Little Way. She said she wasn't called on to do big things, but to do little things with love. We can all emulate her without fear.

What is done in a religious institute is always under the supervision of a superior and a confessor or spiritual director, so when we hear of these extreme penances, we need to remember that. Edited by nunsense

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Ziggamafu
[url="http://oldarchive.godspy.com/life/I-Scourge-the-Body-Electric-by-Brian-Pessaro.cfm.html"]Best article I've ever read on the subject.[/url]

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nunsense
[quote name='Ziggamafu' date='18 January 2010 - 11:30 AM' timestamp='1263774647' post='2039362']
[url="http://oldarchive.godspy.com/life/I-Scourge-the-Body-Electric-by-Brian-Pessaro.cfm.html"]Best article I've ever read on the subject.[/url]
[/quote]

Thank you so much - that was truly amazing. I could even show that to my agnostic family!

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laetitia crucis
[quote name='Ziggamafu' date='17 January 2010 - 08:30 PM' timestamp='1263774647' post='2039362']
[url="http://oldarchive.godspy.com/life/I-Scourge-the-Body-Electric-by-Brian-Pessaro.cfm.html"]Best article I've ever read on the subject.[/url]
[/quote]

Wow -- thanks for the link!

I'm printing it out now.

I think it's the best article I've (now) read on the subject, too!

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MC IMaGiNaZUN
Sometimes I think penances are better suited to the richer or fatter or more comfortable persons who are attached to trivialities.

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Rising_Suns
Thank you for sharing the article. I enjoyed how the author brought it down to earth in such a way that non-Catholics can understand. I also think the posts in this thread are quite thorough and good. I would only add that suffering and penance also have a redemptive value as well. As Our Lady tells us, souls go to hell because there is no one to pray and sacrifice for them. The angel at Fatima proclaimed; "Penance, penance, penance!". When we deny ourselves for love of Our Lord, even in the smallest things like avoiding a piece of chocolate that we crave, we merit graces for the conversion of souls. We become, in a small way, little co-redeemers with the Crucified One, and draw down from heaven special graces. In fact, it could very well make the difference between a soul going to heaven and hell. This is how important penance and mortification are.

Jesus told saint Faustina that self-denial saves more souls than a preacher could ever save with his words. On one occasion, Jesus revealed to her that through her self-denial during the 40 days of Lent, she was able to attain the grace of conversion for a thousand souls. Can you imagine? A thousand souls in 40 days, just by denying oneself for love of Our Lord.

The saints would often say that their only desire in this life is "to love and to suffer". This is the way of the saints, and those who desire to become saints must grow to love suffering. The truth of the matter, really is this: "Love wants to suffer for the one it loves." (Fr. J. Hardon). The reason why we do not see more saints in our modern times is because people are more afraid of suffering than ever before, as we have reverted back to a kindergarten-like faith.

Article: [url="http://religious-vocation.com/redemptive_suffering.html"]Suffering - The Science of the Saints[/url]

. Edited by Rising_Suns

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laetitia crucis
[quote name='Rising_Suns' date='26 January 2010 - 11:44 AM' timestamp='1264520683' post='2044904']
Ziggamafu,
Thank you for sharing the article. I enjoyed how the author brought it down to earth in such a way that most people can understand. I would only add that suffering and penance also have a redemptive value as well. As Our Lady tells us, souls go to hell because there is no one to pray and sacrifice for them. The angel at Fatima proclaimed; "Penance, penance, penance!". When we deny ourselves for love of Our Lord, even in the smallest things like avoiding a piece of chocolate that we crave, we merit graces for our souls and for others. We become, in a small way, little co-redeemers with the Crucified One, and draw down from heaven abounding grace.

The saints would often say that their only desire in this life is "to love and to suffer". This is the way of the saints, and those who desire to become saints must grow to love suffering. The reason why we do not see more saints in our modern times is because people are more afraid of suffering than ever before, as we have reverted back to a kindergarten-like faith.

Article: [url="http://religious-vocation.com/redemptive_suffering.html"]Suffering - The Science of the Saints[/url]

.
[/quote]


Ah, yes! Another great article!!

And such good points you make, too -- especially that last paragraph. I agree [i]completely[/i]. :yes:

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CatherineM
I only have one observation that I would like to make about penance. My former pastor in Florida used to give me incredible penances. He once had me pick up all the cigarette butts on the grounds of the parish, and we were a downtown church next to a vacant lot that had many homeless inhabitants. I was stunned by how many there were. At my last talk with him before moving to Canada, I asked him why he gave me such hard penances, and he said because I was one of those who was too hard on themselves. He found with people like that, that giving them physical penances allowed them to really feel like they had done a penance so that we can forgive ourselves. I think it was a valid point, because at the end of doing the penance, I wasn't mad at myself anymore, I was mad at him.

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Saint Therese
[quote name='MC IMaGiNaZUN' date='18 January 2010 - 04:04 PM' timestamp='1263848698' post='2039787']
Sometimes I think penances are better suited to the richer or fatter or more comfortable persons who are attached to trivialities.
[/quote]

I think that would apply to most of us. I know it does to me.

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Rising_Suns
[quote name='CatherineM' date='26 January 2010 - 01:09 PM' timestamp='1264525779' post='2044932']
I only have one observation that I would like to make about penance. My former pastor in Florida used to give me incredible penances. He once had me pick up all the cigarette butts on the grounds of the parish, and we were a downtown church next to a vacant lot that had many homeless inhabitants. I was stunned by how many there were. At my last talk with him before moving to Canada, I asked him why he gave me such hard penances, and he said because I was one of those who was too hard on themselves. He found with people like that, that giving them physical penances allowed them to really feel like they had done a penance so that we can forgive ourselves. I think it was a valid point, because at the end of doing the penance, I wasn't mad at myself anymore, I was mad at him.
[/quote]

Dear CatherineM,
May the peace of Christ be with you.

I think your obedience in fulfilling such penances merited more graces than you may realize. And to your merit, you kept going back to the same priest despite the difficult penances. Whether the priest was prudent in assigning such penances (the difficulty of the penance should depend principally on the gravity of the sins confessed), is of less consequence than the obedience and love with which the penance was performed. This is the secret of the Saints. Rather than seeing it as a burden to carry out a difficult penance, or to deny oneself for that which is less comfortable, they were able to recognize the great gift of that was afforded them in these opportunities, especially in confession, where the priest represents God.

It is interesting to note that during the times of the early Church and the first 1500 years of Christianity, the Church would often assign difficult penances (it was in fact meant to be a penance; an act of reparation for the injury done to God). A mortal sin such as adultery might have required a penitent to fast for two years while reciting a Rosary every day during that time, or to have to live as a hermit for a number of years. It used to be that if a person committed a mortal sin, he was [i]de facto[/i] ineligible for the priesthood. It would seem, people back then at least had a better understading of the gravity of sin and its effects on the soul, while today, penance has largely been reduced to the recitation of a few prayers. If I recall correctly, even as late as the early 1900's, penances were often more involved, such as saying the Stations of the Cross, fasting, and alms giving. How quickly we have lost the sense of sin!

. Edited by Rising_Suns

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laetitia crucis
I thought this article was both beautiful and appropriate to the topic at hand:

[url="http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1000347.htm"]Pope John Paul practiced self-mortification, postulator confirms[/url]

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II always took penitence seriously, spending entire nights lying with his arms outstretched on the bare floor, fasting before ordaining priests or bishops and flagellating himself, said the promoter of his sainthood cause.

Msgr. Slawomir Oder, postulator of the late pope's cause, said Pope John Paul used self-mortification "both to affirm the primacy of God and as an instrument for perfecting himself."

The monsignor spoke to reporters Jan. 26 at the launch of his book, "Why He's a Saint: The Real John Paul II According to the Postulator of His Beatification Cause."

Earlier in the day, two Italian news Web sites reported that an October date had been set for Pope John Paul's beatification, but Msgr. Oder said nothing could be confirmed until physicians, theologians and cardinals at the Congregation for Saints' Causes accept a miracle credited to the late pope's intercession and Pope Benedict formally signs a decree recognizing it.

Msgr. Oder's book, published only in Italian, is based largely on what he said he learned from the documents collected for the beatification process and, particularly, from the sworn testimony of the 114 people who personally knew Pope John Paul and testified before the Rome diocesan tribunal investigating his fame of holiness.

Because of the reticence surrounding the process, the witnesses who served as the source for particular affirmations in the book are not named, although some are described loosely as members of the papal entourage or the papal household.

"When it wasn't some infirmity that made him experience pain, he himself would inflict discomfort and mortification on his body," Msgr. Oder wrote.

He said the penitential practices were common both when then-Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of Krakow, Poland, as well as after he became pope.

"Not infrequently he passed the night lying on the bare floor," the monsignor wrote, and people in the Krakow archbishop's residence knew it, even if the archbishop would mess up the covers on his bed so it wouldn't be obvious that he hadn't slept there.

"As some members of his closest entourage were able to hear with their own ears, Karol Wojtyla flagellated himself both in Poland and in the Vatican," Msgr. Oder wrote. "In his closet, among the cassocks, there was a hook holding a particular belt for slacks, which he used as a whip and which he also always brought to Castel Gandolfo," the papal summer residence south of Rome.

In the book, Msgr. Oder said Pope John Paul firmly believed that he was doing what St. Paul professed to do in the Letter to the Colossians: "In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ."

He also said the pope, who had a notorious sweet tooth, was extremely serious about maintaining the Lenten fast and would lose several pounds before Easter each year, but he also fasted before ordaining priests and bishops and for other special intentions.

Msgr. Oder's book also marked the publication for the first time of letters Pope John Paul prepared in 1989 and in 1994 offering the College of Cardinals his resignation in case of an incurable disease or other condition that would prevent him from fulfilling his ministry.

For years there were rumors that Pope John Paul had prepared a letter instructing cardinals to consider him resigned in case of incapacity.

But even a month before his death in April 2005, canon law experts in Rome and elsewhere were saying the problem with such a letter is that someone else would have to decide when to pull it out of the drawer and apply it.

Church law states that a pope can resign, but it stipulates that papal resignation must be "made freely and properly manifested" -- conditions that would be difficult to ascertain if a pope were already incapacitated.

Msgr. Oder wrote that in Pope John Paul's 1994 letter the stressed syllables in spoken Italian are underlined, making it appear that the pope had read it or was preparing to read it to the College of Cardinals.

The 1989 letter was brief and to the point; it says that in the case of an incurable illness that prevents him from "sufficiently carrying out the functions of my apostolic ministry" or because of some other serious and prolonged impediment, "I renounce my sacred and canonical office, both as bishop of Rome as well as head of the holy Catholic Church."

In his 1994 letter the pope said he had spent years wondering whether a pope should resign at age 75, the normal retirement age for bishops. He also said that, two years earlier, when he thought he might have a malignant colon tumor, he thought God had already decided for him.

Then, he said, he decided to follow the example of Pope Paul VI who, in 1965, concluded that a pope "could not resign the apostolic mandate except in the presence of an incurable illness or an impediment that would prevent the exercise of the functions of the successor of Peter."

"Outside of these hypotheses, I feel a serious obligation of conscience to continue to fulfill the task to which Christ the Lord has called me as long as, in the mysterious plan of his providence, he desires," the letter said.

END

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