Understanding Why Mortification and Sacrifice are Necessary and Perfect

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene gives us an important reminder for Lent on why we deny ourselves and practice extra sacrifices: “Mortification, which is suffering eagerly accepted for the love of God, is one of the greatest proofs of love that we can give Him. It means freely giving up a satisfaction or a pleasure in order to impose on ourselves, for love of God, something which is contrary to our natural inclinations; we thus prove that we prefer to satisfy God rather than ourselves. Every act of voluntary mortification, whether physical or moral, says to God, ‘Lord, I love you more than myself.’  And since a soul in love has an ardent desire to give proof of its love, it is very vigilant not to miss a single opportunity for renunciation.”

Fr. Gabriel explains further: “The value of voluntary mortification consists much more in the good will with which it is practiced than in the intensity of the suffering which is imposed….From this point of view, a slight mortification, done with all the love of which a soul is capable has greater value than a painful penance performed in a material way with no interior spirit…Contemplating Jesus Crucified, the soul feels that, even if it is mortifying itself much for love of Him, its sacrifices and renunciations amount to very little , and instead of conceiving sentiments of vain complacency for mortifications already practiced, it feels the need of humbling itself and always doing more.”

He points us to St. Therese of Lisieux, the master of offering the littlest things with joy, because she knew without Jesus, she could offer no big sufferings: “For Love’s sake, I wish to suffer and rejoice; so shall I strew my flowers…singing all the while, I will scatter my petals before You.  Should my roses be gathered amid thorns, I will sing notwithstanding, and the longer and sharper are the thorns, the sweeter will grow my song.”

The lesson for all of us is that we can always do more than we are doing,  but we must ask the Holy Spirit for the Gifts, especially Fortitude and Piety, so that the Grace to mortify ourselves will be given, so that we can have the power to do what as of now seems impossible, and this burden will instead become sweet and joyful.  It is only in the Holy Spirit that this power to overcome our flesh resides.

Consider this extra practice of Love for the Holy Spirit this Lent: read and meditate with “Holy Spirit Make Your Home In Me” by Fr. George Montague, SM.

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