Opus Dei and corporal mortification

Ayer me escribieron pidiendo información sobre la mortificación en inglés, porque hay una web en inglés sobre la Obra, que no explica bien el sentido de la mortificación.

Copio textos con los siguientes títulos:

Opus Dei and corporal mortification
“The spirit of mortification”
Do members of Opus Dei practice mortification?
Da Vinci Code and Corporal Mortification


Opus Dei and corporal mortification

As part of the Catholic Church, Opus Dei adheres to all its teachings, including those on penance and sacrifice.

The foundation of the Church’s teaching on mortification is the fact that Jesus Christ, out of love for mankind, voluntarily accepted suffering and death (his “passion”) as the means to redeem the world from sin. Christians are called to emulate Jesus’ great love and, among other things, join him in his redemptive suffering. Thus Christians are called to “die to themselves.” The Church mandates certain mortifications – fasting and abstinence from meat – as Lenten penances. Some people in the history of the Church have felt called to undertake greater sacrifices, such as frequent fasting or using a hairshirt, cilice, or discipline, as can be seen in the lives of many of those explicitly recognized by the Church as models of holiness, e.g., St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas More, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Mother Teresa. In any event, the practice of mortification as lived in Opus Dei gives more emphasis to everyday sacrifices than to these greater sacrifices, and is not like the distorted and exaggerated depiction in The Da Vinci Code.

Pope John Paul II: “What one must see in these forms of penance – which, unfortunately, our times are not accustomed to – are the motives: the love of God and the conversion of sinners.” Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday, no. 11, March 16, 1986.

New Catholic Encyclopedia (2003): Mortification. The deliberate restraint that one places on natural impulses in order to make them increasingly subject to sanctification through obedience to reason illumined by faith. Jesus Christ required such renunciation of anyone who wished to come after Him (Lk 9.29). And so mortification, or what St. Paul calls the crucifixion of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences (Gal. 5.24), has become a distinguishing mark of those who are Christ’s.

“All theologians agree that mortification is necessary for salvation because man is so strongly inclined to evil by the threefold concupiscence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which, if not resisted, must lead to grievous sin. One who wishes to save his soul must, at the very least, flee the proximate occasions of mortal sin. Of itself, such flight involves some mortification. In addition to these mortifications demanded by man’s very condition, the Church, in view of the repeated insistence of the Gospels, imposes other restraints on the faithful. One example is the law of fast and abstinence. And those who, for one reason or other, are dispensed from such regulations, are advised of their duty to perform some mortification in their place.

“Those who seek to advance in Christian perfection must mortify themselves more than ordinary believers are required to do. Christ made the bearing of a cross the price of being His close follower (Lk 14.33). Hence, from early Christian times, many embraced a life of mortification in imitation of the Lord. Those who achieve great sanctity are constantly moved to be like Him in His suffering. But because of the danger of self-deceit in assuming great mortifications, they are advised to submit all penances to the approval of a wise director.”

The Bible (RSV): “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Jesus, Luke 9:23). “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (St. Paul, Col. 1:24).

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997): “By uniting ourselves with his [Christ’s] sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God” (n. 2100). “The way of 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” (n. 2015).

Pope Paul VI: “True penitence, however, cannot ever prescind from physical ascetism as well…. The necessity of mortification of the flesh stands clearly revealed if we consider the fragility of our nature, in which, since Adam’s sin, flesh and spirit have contrasting desires. This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism—does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which the Son of God deigned to assume. On the contrary, mortification aims at the ‘liberation’ of man.” Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, February 17, 1966.

Blessed Pope John XXIII: “No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance. That is why in Our Apostolic Constitution officially proclaiming the Second Vatican Council and urging the faithful to make a worthy spiritual preparation for this great event by prayer and other acts of Christian virtue, we included a warning to them not to overlook the practice of voluntary mortification.” Encyclical Paenitentiam Agere (On the Need for the Practice of Interior and Exterior Penance), July 1, 1962.

Jordan Aumann, O.P.: “One of the most tremendous marvels of the economy of divine grace is the intimate solidarity of all people through the Mystical Body of Christ. God accepts the suffering offered to him by a soul in grace for the salvation of another soul or for sinners in general. It is impossible to measure the redemptive power of suffering offered to divine justice with a living faith and an ardent love through the wounds of Christ. When everything else fails, there is still recourse to suffering to obtain the salvation of a sinful soul. The Curé of Ars [St. John Vianney] said once to a priest who lamented the coldness of his parishioners and the sterility of his zeal: ‘Have you preached? Have you prayed? Have you fasted? Have you taken the discipline? Have you slept on boards? Until you have done these things, you have no right to complain.’” Spiritual Theology (London: Sheed and Ward, 1993), p. 172.

For an assessment of the portrayal of mortification in The Da Vinci Code see the comments of Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison, WI) in the Catholic Herald.

“The spirit of mortification”

A spirit of mortification, rather than being just an outward show of Love, arises as one of its consequences. If you fail in one of these little proofs, acknowledge that your love for the Love is wavering. (Furrow, 981)

For parents and, in general, for those whose work involves supervision or teaching, penance is to correct whenever it is necessary. This should be done bearing in mind the type of fault committed and the situation of the person who needs to be so helped, not letting oneself be swayed by subjective viewpoints, which are often cowardly and sentimental.

A spirit of penance keeps us from becoming too attached to the vast imaginative blueprints we have made for our future projects, where we have already foreseen our master strokes and brilliant successes. What joy we give to God when we are happy to lay aside our third‑rate painting efforts and let him put in the features and colours of his choice! (Friends of God, 138)

Do members of Opus Dei practice mortification?

Like other Catholics, members try to incorporate an element of sacrifice into their lives. In accord with its emphasis on finding God in everyday activities, Opus Dei encourages small sacrifices like carrying out one’s duties conscientiously, putting others’ needs before one’s own, and finding a smile in annoying circumstances. In addition, as recommended by the Catholic Church, members practice small physical mortifications occasionally, such as giving up certain items of food or drink. Within this spirit, numeraries and associates (celibate members) sometimes practice traditional Catholic penances such as using the cilice and discipline. These are practices that Catholics have used for centuries and are commonplace in the lives of the saints, for example: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas More, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa. The motivation for these voluntary penances is to imitate Christ and to join him in his redemptive sacrifice (cf. Matthew 16:24), and they can also be a way to suffer in solidarity with the many poor and deprived people in the world.

Da Vinci Code and Corporal Mortification

The Da Vinci Code has drawn attention to the Catholic custom of corporal mortification. Rev. Michael Barrett, a priest of Opus Dei, answers questions.

July 11, 2006

Fr. Mike Barrett, director of the Holy Cross Chapel and Catholic Resource Center, Houston, Texas.
Is The Da Vinci Code’s portayal of corporal mortification accurate?

The Da Vinci Code’s bloody depictions of mortification are grotesque exaggerations that have nothing to do with reality. Obviously the movie makers were looking for shock value, and the real use of the cilice and discipline would have been too tame. In reality, they cause a fairly low level of discomfort comparable to fasting. There is no blood, no injury, nothing to harm a person’s health, nothing traumatic. If it caused any harm, the Church would not allow it.

Do members of Opus Dei use the cilice?

Some of the celibate members of Opus Dei use the cilice. It’s a small, light, metal chain with little prongs worn around the thigh. The cilice is uncomfortable–it’s supposed to be–but it does not in any way hinder one’s normal activities and there’s absolutely no Da Vinci Code gore.

And what about the disciplines?

The same as the cilice. Some celibate members use them generally once a week for a minute or two. Again, no blood, no harm, just some short-term discomfort. Far from the two-fisted flogging of The Da Vinci Code’s crazed monk, the real disciplines are made of woven cotton string and weigh less than two ounces. When members or former members see the monk go at it in the movie, they just burst out laughing, it’s so nutty.

Did Opus Dei invent the cilice and the discipline?

Not at all. The cilice and the disciplines, along with fasting and other bodily penances, have been used in the Catholic Church for centuries. Many of the best known and most beloved saints like St. Francis Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Therese of Lisieux used them. In the Twentieth century, people like Saint Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa and Pope Paul VI also used them. Bodily penances such as fasting and abstinence from meat are still mandated by the Church for all Catholics on some days of Lent.

Why do they do these mortifications?

Penance and mortification are a small but essential part of the Christian life. Jesus Christ himself fasted for forty days to prepare for his public ministry. Mortification helps us resist our natural drive toward personal comfort which so often prevents us from answering the Christian call to love God and serve others for love of God. Also, this voluntarily accepted discomfort is a way of joining oneself to Jesus Christ and the sufferings he voluntarily accepted in order to redeem us from sin. The Da Vinci Code’s masochist monk, who loves pain for its own sake, has nothing to do with real Christian mortification.

How important is mortification for members of Opus Dei?

Despite The Da Vinci Code’s morbid attention to mortification, for real members of Opus Dei it plays a secondary role. The primary thing for any Catholic is love of God and neighbor. Penance and mortification aim to reduce our self-centeredness and so to help us to grow in love for God and neighbor. In keeping with its spirit of integrating faith with secular life, Opus Dei emphasizes small rather than great sacrifices, like sticking at your work when tired, being punctual, passing up a small pleasure in food or drink, or not complaining.

See also a video with Fr. John Wauck

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