Practice of Christian Mortification
– Part 2 (of 2)
by Cardinal Mercier
Mortifications to practice in our exterior actions1 — You ought to show the greatest exactitude in observing all the points of your rule of life, obeying them without delay, remembering Saint John Berchmans, who said: “Penance for me is to lead the common life”; “To have the highest regard for the smallest things, such is my motto”; “Rather die than break a single rule.”
2 —In the exercise of your duties of state, try to be well-pleased with whatever happens to be most unpleasant or boring for you, recalling again here the words of Saint Francis: “I am never better than when I am not well.”
3 — Never give one moment over to sloth: from morning until night keep busy without respite.
4 — If your life is, at least partly, spent in study, apply to yourself this advice from Saint Thomas Aquinas to his pupils: “Do not be content to take in superficially what you read and hear, but endeavour to go into it deeply and to fathom the whole sense of it. Never remain in doubt about what you could know with certainty. Work with a holy eagerness to enrich your mind; arrange and classify in your memory all the knowledge you are able to acquire. On the other hand, do not seek to penetrate mysteries which are beyond your intelligence.”
5 — Devote yourself solely to your present occupation, without looking back on what went before or anticipating in thought what will follow. Say with Saint Francis: “While I am doing this I am not obliged to do anything else”; “let us make haste very calmly; all in good time.”
6 — Be modest in your bearing. Nothing was so perfect as Saint Francis’s deportment; he always kept his head straight, avoiding alike the inconstancy which turns it in all directions, the negligence which lets it droop forward and the proud and haughty disposition which throws it back. His countenance was always peaceful, free from all annoyance, always cheerful, serene and open; without however any merriment or indiscreet humour, without loud, immoderate or too frequent laughter.
He was as composed when alone as in a large gathering. He did not cross his legs, never supported his head on his elbow. When he prayed he was motionless as a statue. When nature suggested to him he should relax, he did not listen.
7 — Regard cleanliness and order as a virtue, uncleanness and untidyness as a vice; do not have dirty, stained or torn clothes. On the other hand, regard luxury and worldliness as a greater vice still. Make sure that, on seeing your way of dressing, nobody calls it “slovenly” or “elegant”, but that everybody is bound to think it “decent”.
Mortifications to practice in our relations with our neighbour1 — Bear with your neighbour’s defects; defects of education, of mind, of character. Bear with everything about him which irritates you: his gait, his posture, tone of voice, accent, or whatever.
2 — Bear with everything in everybody and endure it to the end and in a Christian spirit. Never with that proud patience which makes one say: “What have I to do with so and so? How does what he says affect me? What need have I for the affection, the kindness or even the politeness of any creature at all and of that person in particular?” Nothing accords less with the will of God than this haughty unconcern, this scornful indifference; it is worse, indeed, than impatience.
3 — Are you tempted to be angry? For the love of Jesus, be meek.
To avenge yourself? Return good for evil; it is said the great secret of touching Saint Teresa’s heart was to do her a bad turn.
To look sourly at someone? Smile at him with good nature.
To avoid meeting him? Seek him out willingly.
To talk badly of him? Talk well of him.
To speak harshly to him? Speak very gently, warmly, to him.
4 — Love to give praise to your companions, especially those you are naturally most inclined to envy.
5 — Do not be witty at the expense of charity.
6 — If somebody in your presence should take the liberty of making remarks which are rather improper, or if someone should hold conversations likely to injure his neighbour’s reputation, you may sometimes rebuke the speaker gently, but more often it will be better to divert the conversation skillfully, or indicate by a gesture of sorrow or of deliberate inattention that what is said displeases you.
7 — It costs you an effort to render a small service: offer to do it. You will have twice the merit.
8 — Avoid with horror posing as a victim in your own eyes or those of others. Far be it from you to exaggerate your burdens; strive to find them light; they are so, in reality, much more often than it seems; they would be so always if you were more virtuous.
ConclusionIn general, know how to refuse to nature what she asks of you unnecessarily.
Know how to make her give what she refuses you for no reason. Your progress in virtue, says the author of The Imitation of Christ, will be in proportion to the violence that you succeed in doing to yourself.
“It is necessary to die,” said the saintly Bishop of Geneva, “it is necessary to die in order that God may live in us, for it is impossible to achieve the union of the soul with God by any means other than by mortification. These words ‘it is necessary to die’ are hard, but they will be followed by a great sweetness, because one dies to oneself for no other reason than to be united to God by that death.”
Would to God we had the right to apply to ourselves these beautiful words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “In all things we suffer tribulation… Always bearing about in our body the death of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.” (II Cor 4:8-10)