We need to be familiar with this concept. In fact, we need to plunge deep into its reality. Corporal mortification, or mortification of the flesh, is necessary at all times. It is urgently needed at this time.
We have to retire, better still, kill and bury that prejudice of considering corporal mortification as a thing of the past, as an obsolete instrument, a sign of immaturity, a threat to one’s health, whether physical, emotional or psychological, etc.
We need it because we cannot deny the fact that in spite of our best intentions and very holy desires, our body follows a law different and debasing to our human dignity as persons and as children of God.
We need to discipline our body to bring it back to its lost original state of integrity. It has to recover its harmony with the soul and with the law of God. It ought to be full of love and truth, and not just drifting in an uncharted adventure of dangerous possibilities. This is what corporal mortification aims to do and attain.
Consider St. Paul’s most eloquent lament relevant to this point: “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” (Rom 7,23)
These words explain why in spite of our good intentions and efforts, we at times find ourselves face to face with our own enemy, our own flesh, whose stirring we often find ourselves at a loss how to quell.
We can look good and holy, heroic and saintly even, but we cannot deny the fact that our flesh can knock us down to our own shame faster than Pacquiao. The attacks can come anytime, but especially in our most vulnerable moments as in our rest and relaxation, and in our sleep.
Especially for those working in the vineyard of the Lord, corporal mortification assumes a particular importance, since they suffer a certain vulnerability not found in other occupations.
That’s why St. Paul said: “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9,27)
If we are not careful, the attacks of the flesh can come even in our most sublime moments, as when we are praying and participating in holy liturgical acts. We are an easy target, a sitting duck to the lust and concupiscence embedded mainly in our flesh.
Let’s remember that our own body can used by the devil himself to tempt us with the most severe and subtle temptation. It can go to the extent of mocking us. It is our worst traitor and rebel.
I remember what St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his book, The Way: “To defend his purity, St Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, St. Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush, St. Bernard plunged into an icy pond… You… what have you done?” (143)
Indeed, we have to ask ourselves whether realize that corporal mortification is a regular ingredient in our daily life. We should not fool ourselves. In our spiritual life, we need corporal mortification like we need oxygen.
Our body, weakened by original sin and now immersed and constantly titillated by an environment of temptations and sin, can’t help but fall for the language of pleasure irrespective of whether such pleasure is good or not.
Our body just wants pleasure, and thus it tends to look always for comfort, convenience and any form of privilege and entitlement. It wants to be spoiled always. Our body is addicted to pleasure. Pleasure is its be-all and end-all.
We need to constantly submit our body to a regimen of discipline. It’s like a little child that cannot be left alone. It should always be guarded. And like a bull, it has to be fenced or tied. We should not be deceived by our body’s charming, sometimes hard-to-resist arguments rationalizing its intemperate desires.
There are many forms of corporal mortification. The usual and traditional ones are fasting and abstinence, not only from food and drinks, but from anything that gives us excessive pleasure like TV, internet, etc.
Let’s not look down on those old forms that have been found effective for ages and for different kinds of people, like sleeping on the floor, observing strict diet, taking cold shower, hiking to and from work, wearing spiked chain around the thigh, whipping oneself with a discipline, etc.
Let’s keep some instruments of corporal mortification, just like we often keep a bottle of vitamins for our physical well-being.*