#97 – The Spirit of Mortification
Continuing along the vein of what I wrote yesterday, we read again today about how it is not just our outward actions and appearances that matter if we are to have a fruitful Lent in preparing for Easter. We must, more importantly, have a conversion of the heart. God knows my heart and he sees through the façade I build if merely going through the motions during, or outside of, Lent. I must do that most difficult of things. I must check my ego.
The spirit of mortification has more than a purely physical aspect of mortification; it also includes renunciation of the ego, the will, and the understanding.
We’ve heard this story before. It’s from Luke’s gospel:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
This parable is so simple and straightforward that I wonder how often we (I) breeze right past it when reading Scripture? Do we chuckle at the prideful Pharisee because we know someone just like him? Do we shake our head in disgust or even sadness at how someone could be so oblivious to such an obvious character flaw?
But is this flaw so obvious? Be honest with yourself. How many times today have you seen someone, friend or stranger, and were thankful you weren’t them? That you were better than them? If that person was your friend did you think that to yourself because of some secret that you know about them (serial liar, adulterer, abuser)? Was it a stranger that you passed on the sidewalk downtown, sitting on the cold cement sidewalk in nothing but a heavy sweatshirt and gloves with holes in them holding a cardboard sign asking for money or just prayers?
How many times this week? This month? This year? Who are you (am I) fooling?
We read that parable without considering that Jesus is holding a mirror up for us to see not just a quaint story about some egotistical fictional character. He holds it up for us to see ourselves and for us to be able to examine our own attitudes. And that hurts a bit, which is why it’s much easier to skim right on by that little passage. It’s a matter of pride.
The spirit of mortification is really complete when, above all, we seek to mortify self-love in all its many manifestations. The Pharisee who fasted on the appointed days, but whose heart was so puffed up with pride that his prayer amounted to nothing more than praise of himself and scorn of his neighbor, did not have the spirit of mortification and hence was not justified before God.
Conversation Starter with God: How blind I am, O Lord, and how poorly do I recognize Your ways, which are so different and remote from my limited human views. Give me, O God, that supernatural sight which can judge events in Your light, and which can penetrate the true meaning of the sufferings which You place in my path. Amen.
For Lent I’m taking a daily walk through Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. It is a book of meditations steeped in Carmelite spirituality and has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.