A spirit of sacrifice is essential for the Christian life. It is expressed by acts of penance and mortification. The chief purpose of acts of penance is to cleanse the soul from past sins, whereas the chief purpose of mortification is to safeguard us against sin in the present and in the future by weakening in us the love of pleasure.
Mortification is the struggle against our evil inclinations in order to subject them to the human will, and to the will of God. It is necessary for the avoidance of sin and for personal sanctification; it also allows us to co-operate with Christ in the salvation of mankind.
In 1916 an angel said to Lucia of Fatima, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country.”
St. Vincent de Paul pointed out, “Mortification of the appetite is the A, B, C of spiritual life. Whoever cannot control himself in this will hardly be able to conquer temptations more difficult to subdue.”
The rules of fasting and abstinence prescribed by the Church help us to practise mortification. In our daily life, we can easily practise mortification at table by eating more of the food we like less and eating less of the food we like more.
Mortification in speech is essential for perfection. St. James wrote, “For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (Jas 3:2).
Commenting on this passage, St. Francis de Sales said, “One of things that keep us at a distance from perfection is, without doubt, our tongue. For when one has gone so far as to commit no faults in speaking, the Holy Spirit Himself assures us that he is perfect.
“And since the worst way of speaking is to speak too much, speak little and well, little and gently, little and simply, little and charitably, little and amiably.”
St. John Berchmans said, “I never say anything without first considering it, and recommending it to God, that I may say nothing which can displease Him.”
Christians practise modesty of the eyes by avoiding whatever is sinful or dangerous. The earnest Christian mortifies the sense of sight by repressing idle, curious glances and by duly controlling his eyes in all simplicity.
St. Francis de Sales said, “Believe me that the mortification of the senses in seeing, hearing, and speaking is worth much more than wearing chains or haircloth.”
We can also exercise mortification by going to bed and getting up at the proper time, and by being temperate in the use of the Internet and other devices of communication.
Memory and imagination are good, but if undisciplined, they can crowd the soul with distractions and temptations. The first step to mortify our interior senses is to expel all dangerous fancies and recollections the very moment we are aware of them.
Since frequent day-dreaming is a source of temptation, we must mortify ourselves against useless fancies, which constitute a waste of time and pave way to more dangerous thoughts. The saints tell us that mortifying idle thoughts deals death to evil ones.
A good method is to apply ourselves whole-heartedly to the fulfillment of our daily duties, and to apply our memory and imagination to spiritual things.
Mortification frees us from being dominated by our lower instinct, and allows us to be guided by sound reason and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.