Saturday, 18 October 2008

Marriage and Mortification

AR has been musing on mortification again and I find myself doing the same. The Catechism is helpful: 2015 The way of the perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.

However there is no guide there as to how this should be achieved and in particular how it should be achieved within the married state. Some forms of mortification are just not suited to the married life. When one is sacramentally united to a partner is mortification still a personal matter or does it become a unitive matter for the couple? Extreme simplification of diet becomes a selfish act as one can't expect ones husband or children to partake. It may also lead to illness and if a bread-winner is deliberately weakening their physical state this is not a wholly charitable thing to do. Mortification through acts upon the body is also not really goer. I'd argue that your body is not your own ever, as it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. However when married, it is even less your own because with your partner you form One Body. Mortification that may leave marks upon the body is certainly not acceptable in this light.

I like simple food but DH is a fairly traditional northern male and loves a thick rump steak above all other meals. I find this far too rich and over-facing but we have them occasionally as a "treat". His luxury is almost my penance. I feel similarly about most cream cakes...

I want permanent reminding of the sacrifice of Calvary but it would be wrong to mark my body. On Fridays I often wear an extremely irritating pair of socks that ride down into my boots and leave me feeling very uncomfortable. It isn't much and I laugh at myself for doing it, but I still do it. Meatless fridays are out of the question as DH's won't do vegetarian (except on Holy Days of Obligation)and I think fish is a luxury so is banned on fridays.

I thank God for my strength and good health. I feel I'm kept in good health for a reason and I'm to use this special gift.

The 4 new saints this week were all ones who showed great devotion to the crucified Christ through mortification. None of them were married.

To conclude my musings; I'm very taken with the symbolism of the crowns worn by the Orthodox at their marriage ceremonies. Surely this is what mortification within marriage is all about?

The crowns may be a wreath of flowers or an actual crown, gold with red velvet and jewels. The crowns have several rich symbolisms. They express the creation of a new household, a "kingdom" which they are charged to rule wisely and with full responsibility to each other and to God.

The crowning is a sign of victory, just as athletes were crowned in ancient times at their triumphs. In this instance, the Bride and Groom are crowned on account of their growth as mature Christians, prepared for the responsibilities of a Christian marriage.

The crowns also represent martyrdom, sacrifice and steadfast devotion. In marriage, the couple must deny themselves and take up their cross as they relate to their spouses in building up the marriage, and to commit themselves as responsible parents to their children.


Tom in Vegas said...

"His luxury is almost my penance."


BTW, Rita, I don't mean to make light of them, but it would appear that those crowns are wearing a dress. I don't think your husband will display the same level of affection for them as you have:0)

Rita said...

Hi Tom!

Nice to know you are still around. How's skool?

BTW: Never mind my better half,I wouldn't be seen dead in frilly stuff like that!

Irene said...

Much food for thought here, Rita.

I agree with you entirely. Aceticism and mortification do not require or commend intentional damage to the body. As you pointed out, because my body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost, I indeed am under an obligation to protect, nourish, and in fact beautify it to the full extent of my abilities. Medieval flaggelation was not a virtue, but in reality was a sin.

All of which is not incompatible with simplification in diet and other areas -- or with St. Francis' Lady Poverty. For example, a simple diet is not necessarily any less nourishing -- quite the opposite. The medical profession regards fatty foods, overindulgence, and obesity as modern day epidemic plagues. Physicians now believe that a simple diet and a trim athletic figure are more healthy, therefore better stewardship of your body. Fortunately, just because you honor your spouse's request and prepare him a steak, it does not mean that you must eat it also. Neither does it mean that you cannot politely and gently try to educate him -- after all, that body he is carrying around is part of you, is it not? You became one body with your first union. The hard part is living up to that.

Neither does simplicity, mortification, nor asceticism suggest that you deliberately and intentionally cause your body irritation and pain. Give up those irritating sox and substitute some that are simple yet cover your feet with beauty.

The key comes in acceptance of those crosses, renunciations, and spiritual battles that will come your way involuntarily, with no action on your part to create them. There are more than enough in anyone's life.

AutumnRose said...


Thank you for this entry ~ it contains some really helpful stuff, and covers angles I hadn't really considered (ie the implications of my body belonging to my husband). I do practise a corporal mortification, but not one that leaves marks of any kind, and certainly not to excess!

The irritating socks is a good one...not in the posession of such a pair myself, I think that forgoing socks completely at this time of year would be a very effective penance!

I am discovering as I look at this subject that pride is often used as a reason not to practice exterior mortification, and of course that is entirely relevant, but that covers all penance, interior and exterior ~ it is just as easy to be full of pride about the hidden acts of sacrifice and good works we do ~ but I am also discovering that there are more like-minded people out there than I thought, and that corporal mortification is not dead after all...

AR xx

la mamma said...

There's your penance, then, Rita - frilly stuff... though under your outer clothes, so no-one (except Better Half) would know!

I've commented on AR's blog if you're interested. Thanks for your insight into this as a married person. It's oh-so different, isn't it, from when we were single and only had ourselves to consider! Back then I was at Mass most days, didn't have to arrange to go to confession, could happily find time for a daily rosary and morning, evening and night prayer, as well as a good bit of contemplative prayer. and as for penances, etc, who's to know? Just oneself. But as a married person - yes, it's all so, so different.

Rita said...

Thank you guys and gals,

Good comments from all of you.

When a saint you particularly admire was one for extreme mortification, how are you supposed to view this? It can't be written off as a historical curiosity, nor should it be admired for its own sake. The fruits of the labour are what counts not the nature of the labour.

Question for Irene, but anyone else may give it a go. I was not always the best of girls, I have some very nasty habits which resurface from time to time. Does my need for a little bit of discomfort to remind me where I should be going just mean I'm not doing my best in the confessional or can I see additional discomfort as a form of prayer in itself?

Irene said...

Hm-m-m. Much food for thought there, Rita.

I presume you are referring to St. Francis. I know that he sought simplification in every way. I am less sure about the mortification. While he fasted often, did he overdo it? I really can't say at this point. I do not recall him flagellating himself or otherwise intentionally damaging his body. The stigmata, of course, were not self-inflicted.

He also went barefoot and wore a meagre robe, I believe in all seasons. However, here again, he seems to have been identifying with the poor, not intentionally damaging his body. I do not (for example) recall that he ever suffered frostbite.

We also should remember that many bios of St. Francis are obviously exaggerated, treating him almost like a God, or at least some form of magician.

Your last paragraph gives a particularly interesting twist that I had not thought of: the use of an irritant as a reminder. Certainly that is what we are doing when we tie a string around our finger. Are the sox the same thing, or are they too much? Again, I don't pretend to know.

Lastly, I never thought of discomfort as a form of prayer. It is an interesting possibility. However, I would think the discomfort would distract from prayer -- what do you think?

By the way, I seriously doubt that your confessions are in any way inadequate.

Irene said...

Oh yes, I forgot. "The fruits of labour are what counts not the nature of the labour". The problem here is that this is dangerously close to "the end justifies the means", and I am sure you know that is strictly contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Rita said...

Thank you Irene, lovely, thoughtful replies, you are giving me much to think about!

What about those more recent (well documented) saints like St Faustina, St Gemma Glagani (a favourite of mine) and the ones proclaimed so at the Vatican last week....some severe mortification there but well within the last 150 years?

I don't admire them for their mortification, I just see it as a natural part of their growing love for God.

Anonymous said...

Rita, I think God calls people to certain kinds of mortification-such as the children of Fatima-and when He calls them He also gives the graces necessessary for the action.
He calls us all to some kind of suffering-which we have to accept and offer up. In marriage and motherhood there are other sacrifices that have to be made. Doing without that new dress because the children need shoes or clothes. Doing with less food because a guest has arrived unexpectedly; giving up that precious time to self because a child needs something; doing things you really would prefer not to because others want to-and doing it without letting on you would rather not...I could list a lot of things.

I like your 'socks' idea. But don't worry you are not doing enough. Ask Him and I am sure He will tell you what else He wants you to do.

I find not getting grumpy about it the real challenge.
God bless