Friday, April 21, 2017

God is Pleased with Penance and Mortification, and not Sensual Gratification or Lust

God is Pleased with Penance and Mortification, and not Sensual Gratification or Lust

"The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle."

The Catholic Church hold that “mortification of the flesh”, literally, “putting the flesh to death”, is a worthy spiritual discipline when we mortify and put to death all our evil and sinful inclinations. Saint Paul, who speaks of joy in suffering in Colossians, writes: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”. Saint Paul does not say that we shall rejoice in sensual pleasures, but “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” since he knows that his sufferings produces direct graces for other people, similar to how praying for another person produces graces for him or her. Penance and suffering produces graces, not sensual indulgence. Saint Paul also writes, “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection...” (1 Cor. 9:27) and makes clear that his suffering helps other souls, saying that he “rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church.” (Col. 1:24).

The three children of Fatima who prophesied the amazing miracle of the Sun, where 70,000-100,000 people experienced and saw the miracle, confirms the fact that it is penance and mortification God is pleased with, and not sensual gratification. Wikipedia's article “Mortification in Roman Catholic teaching” says that “In the early twentieth century, the child seers of Fatima said they had initially seen an angel, who said: “In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.” Lucia Santos later reported that the idea of making sacrifices was repeated several times by the Virgin Mary and that she had shown them a vision of hell which prompted them to ever more stringent self-mortifications to save souls. Among many other practices, Lucia wrote that she and her cousins wore tight cords around their waists, flogged themselves with stinging nettles, gave their lunches to beggars and abstained from drinking water on hot days. Lucia wrote that Mary said God was pleased with their sacrifices and bodily penances.”

[Update: If a person is attached to pleasures, such as of food (as I am), then it may be important to start living as if it were Lent all year round! This is something I will try to start doing, since, as I noticed: I had much more peace during Lent compared to now since I was not then as great a slave to the palate as I am now.]

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina who undoubtedly was one of the persons in the Church's history who produced most supernatural and documented miracles and “who received the stigmata wrote in one of his letters: “Let us now consider what we must do to ensure that the Holy Spirit may dwell in our souls. It can all be summed up in mortification of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and in guarding against a selfish spirit... The mortification must be constant and steady, not intermittent [i.e., not ceasing for a period and later resuming], and it must last for one's whole life. Moreover, the perfect Christian must not be satisfied with a kind of mortification which merely appears to be severe. He must make sure that it hurts.””

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. Interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. Christ has suffered in the flesh and it is only fitting that we follow him with the same intent, although our suffering and penance is as nothing compared to his. It is right, too, to seek example and inspiration from the great saints of the Church. Pure as they were, they inflicted such mortifications upon themselves as to leave us filled with admiration. And as we contemplate their saintly heroism, shall not we be moved by God's grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations?

The necessity of mortification of the flesh stands clearly revealed to anyone who is of good will, and natural reason itself dictates that justice requires suffering and some form of punishment for our sin, not sensual indulgence and pleasure. Just like we reasonably punish people who break the law with prison, or in other countries, with things like lashes from a whip, so too, it is unreasonable to think that God somehow are more inclined to listen to us if we search for more pleasures instead of penance and reparation for our sins. Sufferings draws us to God, not pleasures. And not only that, but sensual pleasures actually blinds our spiritual understanding according to St. Clement of Alexandria, “For as the exhalations which arise from the earth, and from marshes, gather into mists and cloudy masses; so the vapours of fleshly lusts bring on the soul an evil condition, scattering about the idols of pleasure before the soul. Accordingly they spread darkness over the light of intelligence, the spirit attracting the exhalations that arise from lust, and thickening the masses of the passions by persistency in pleasures.”

Being a champion of virtue and the highest moral perfection, St. Clement could thus safely assert that “The human ideal of continence… teaches that one should fight desire and not be subservient to it so as to bring it to practical effect. But our [Christian] ideal is not to experience desire at all. Our aim is not that while a man feels desire he should get the better of it, but that he should be continent even respecting desire itself. This chastity cannot be attained in any other way except by God’s grace. That was why he said "Ask and it shall be given you."…Where there is light there is no darkness. But where there is inward desire, even if it goes no further than desire and is quiescent so far as bodily action is concerned, union takes place in thought with the object of desire, although that object is not present. [Comment: this means if your desires are not for God, you will be putting yourself in constant union with fleshly or created objects rather then the Eternal God and Creator.]” (St. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata or Miscellanies, Book III, Chapter VII, Section 57)

St. Clement’s divinely inspired teaching that echoes the teaching in the biblical books of Tobit and St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians clarifies the Scriptural truth that “we should do nothing from desire” which in fact is the most perfect and evangelical teaching that should influence and direct all our deeds on this earth. St. Clement of Alexandria writes, “Our will is to be directed only towards that which is necessary. For we are children not of desire but of will. A man who marries for the sake of begetting children must practice continence so that it is not desire he feels for his wife, whom he ought to love, and so that he may beget children with a chaste and controlled will.” (The Stromata or Miscellanies, Book III, Chapter VII, Section 58)

If those wondrous words of the Holy Spirit that “we should do nothing from desire” truly influences and directs all our actions and thoughts, the Devil would never be able to cast us down to Hell and eternal torment which all people deserve who live for the sake of the flesh instead of for the spirit. “For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.” (Romans 8:13)

St. John Chrysostom, carrying on the apostolic tradition of despising our fleshly lusts and desires, writes that: “Our soul hath by nature the love of life, but it lies with us either to loose the bands of nature, and make this desire weak; or else to tighten them, and make the desire more tyrannous. For as we have the desire of sexual intercourse [or any other fleshly desire, such as for food or pleasures], but when we practice true wisdom we render the desire weak [by mortification], so also it falls out in the case of life; and as God hath annexed carnal desire to the generation of children, to maintain a succession among us, without however forbidding us from traveling the higher road of continence; so also He hath implanted in us the love of life, forbidding us from destroying ourselves, but not hindering our despising the present life.” (Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, Homily LXXXV, John xix. 16-38, Ver. 24)

St. Augustine also agreed with this, teaching that the “lover of the spiritual good” hates and neglects the pleasures of the flesh: “Thus a good Christian is found to love in one and the same woman the creature of God, whom he desires to be transformed and renewed [in Heaven]; but to hate the corruptible and mortal conjugal connection and carnal intercourse: i.e. to love in her what is characteristic of a human being, to hate what belongs to her as a wife. … It is necessary, therefore, that the disciple of Christ should hate these things which pass away, in those whom he desires along with himself to reach those things which shall for ever remain; and that he should the more hate these things in them, the more he loves themselves.” (St. Augustine, On the Sermon on the Mount, Book 1, Chapter 15:41, c. 394 A.D.) What lover of the spiritual good, who has married only for the sake of offspring, would not prefer if he could to propagate children without it [lust] or without its very great impulsion? I think, then, we ought to attribute to that life in Paradise, which was a far better life than this, whatever saintly spouses would prefer in this life, unless we can think of something better.” (St. Augustine, Against Julian, Book IV, Chapter 13, Section 71, A.D. 421)

Indeed, “The chaste are not bound by a necessity to depravity, for they resist lust lest it compel them to commit unseemly acts; yet not even honorable procreation can exist without lust. In this way in chaste spouses there is both the voluntary, in the procreation of offspring; and the necessary, in lust. But honesty arises from unseemliness when chaste union accepts, but does not love, lust.” (St. Augustine, Against Julian, Book V, Chapter 9, Section 37) It is therefore clear that “there must be warfare against evil of concupiscence, which is so evil it must be resisted in the combat waged by chastity, lest it do damage.” (St. Augustine, Against Julian, Book III, Chapter 21, Section 43, A.D. 421)

Thus the conception of children is “the one alone worthy fruit… of the sexual intercourse.” (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Section 1) No other aspect of the marital act can be described as “worthy.” Therefore, when a husband engages in marital relations during those times when his wife is pregnant, nursing, or menstruating, the husband or the wife or both are seen as seeking the unworthy fruit of sexual pleasure. “There also are men incontinent to such a degree that they do not spare their wives even when pregnant. Therefore, whatever immodest, shameful, and sordid acts the married commit with each other are the sins of the married persons themselves, not the fault of marriage.” (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Section 5)

It is thus clear that continence from all intercourse [within or without marriage] is certainly better than marital intercourse itself which takes place for the sake of begetting children.” (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, Section 6; in "The Fathers Of The Church – A New Translation Volume 27")

This is also why the Church and The Council of Trent infallibly teaches in Session 24, Canon 10 that it is “better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony”, which, as we have seen, is a restatement of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s words in the Holy Bible (1 Corinthians 7).

St. Augustine offered married couples striving for the “better and more blessed” way some suggestions for ridding the elements of sexual desire and sexual pleasure from their lives. He proposed that a person’s love of heavenly realities would develop in direct proportion to a person’s hatred of earthly realities. Since there would be no sexual intercourse in the next life, Augustine taught that the virtuous husband would do well to hate sexual union in this earthly life. Being a lover of virtue, the bishop of Hippo wanted the husband to “love” the spouse created by God while hating “the corruptible and mortal relationship and marital intercourse.” St. Augustine reiterated: “In other words, it is evident that he loves her insofar as she is a human being, but he hates her under the aspect of wifehood.” (St. Augustine, On the Sermon on the Mount, Book I, Chapter 15, Section 40-42)

St. Augustine, Against Julian, Book III, Chapter 21, Section 43: “It, [conjugal chastity] too, combats carnal concupiscence lest it exceed the proprieties of the marriage bed; it combats lest concupiscence break into the time agreed upon by the spouses for prayer. If this conjugal chastity possesses such great power and is so great gift from God that it does what the matrimonial code prescribes, it combats in even more valiant fashion in regard to the act of conjugal union, lest there be indulgence beyond what suffices for generating offspring. Such chastity abstains during menstruation and pregnancy, nor has it union with one no longer able to conceive on account of age. And the desire for union does not prevail, but ceases when there is no prospect of generation.”

Indeed, the Church’s view on sexuality has been clear from the beginning, teaching us that both married and unmarried persons who love each other passionately or immoderately exceeds the bounds of moderation and heaps up the uncleanness of a more bestial intemperance.” (St. Augustine, On the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount; in "The Fathers of the Church", 19, 28, 139)

For those who want to read and learn a lot more on sexual ethics, I can recommend the following interesting and informative article that is absolutely packed with quotes from the popes, saints and fathers of the Church:

Sexual Pleasure, the Various Sexual Acts, and Procreation

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