Mae govannen, readers!
This may seem like an odd title for a post, and a little unusual – not the more obvious sort of Catholic content that you would read about in The Lord of the Rings. But … I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring (which makes this what – the eighth time I’ve started that book?) and a specific passage stuck out. Before I quote the passage, though, I want to mention St. Josemaría Escrivá.
St. Josemaría was one of the great saints of the 2oth century and the founder of Opus Dei, which is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Perhaps some of you have heard of him before 😉 Among the many books that he wrote, The Way, Furrow, The Forge is an exceptional spiritual read. (I highly recommend it.) In The Way, St. Josemaría has a chapter devoted to mortifications. A mortification is denying yourself something perfectly good – dessert, for example, or maybe seconds at meals. The aim is to become the master of your body, instead of vice versa, so that when the time comes and you are tempted to fall into sin, you have built up the strength to say ‘No’. Mortifications have incredible spiritual benefit, and St. Josemaría always stressed its importance in a healthy spiritual life. So, here is the passage from The Fellowship that struck me. In it, Frodo and Gandalf are sitting in Bag End, discussing the Ring’s history.
” ‘But why not destroy it, as you say should have been done long ago?’ cried Frodo again. ‘If you had warned me, or even sent me a message, I would have done away with it.’
‘Would you? How would you do that? Have you ever tried?’
‘No. But I suppose one could hammer it or melt it.’
‘Try!’ said Gandalf. ‘Try now!’
“Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its colour, how perfect was its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious. When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But he found now that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away – but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 2
This is an example of what can often happen when we are faced with temptations and we haven’t previously made many (or any) mortifications. It becomes very difficult to renounce the desire to do whatever it is we are tempted to do. I think that we can easily assume, “Oh, I won’t worry about that. I could spot a temptation like that from a mile away, and besides, I’m strong enough to resist it.” What a lot of people don’t fully realize is that first of all, the devil can be very persuasive and the sins to which he tempts us appear very attractive; and secondly, if they haven’t really (or ever) practiced saying ‘no’ and building up their self-control in little things, it is incredibly difficult – almost impossible – to say ‘no’ to something bigger. Frodo thinks at first that it will be very easy for him to try to damage the Ring – he has just heard its dark and terrible history and he is filled with fear to know that it is in his possession. He would do anything to get rid of it in any way he could. But when he pulls the Ring out of his pocket and looks at it, he sees how beautiful it is and how perfectly it is made … and he begins to hesitate – it truly is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship … and he wonders … and all of a sudden he is struggling very hard just to throw it a few feet away from him. He tries to recall everything that Gandalf has told him about it, and he does make a legitimate effort to get rid of it, but suddenly … he can’t; he has put it back in his pocket. It’s almost impossible to say ‘no’ to a temptation, but with God’s grace, we can make mortifications, and thus say ‘no’ to sin.
Now, I realize that making mortifications sounds totally unappealing. Well … (surprise, surprise) it kind of is. I mean, giving up ice cream on the night your family finally gets those 3 awesome flavors of ice cream that you normally never get? Like, who the heck does that!? Sooo not cool. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that mortifications are a uniquely Catholic thing. Why would anyone deliberately choose to give up something that is intrinsically good?? It doesn’t make sense. Not the world’s sense, anyway. We don’t make sense to the world, because we’re crazy – crazy for the love of God. Your biggest motivation for making any mortification, big or small, should be for the love of God. As Catholics, we are (we should be) constantly striving to love God more and more. Remember, a mortification is a tool to help you resist temptations to sin. Sin is horribly offensive to God – we cannot even fathom how much He suffered because of our sins, because we didn’t love Him enough to say ‘no’ to sin. So, because we have that desire to love Our Lord, we willingly choose to give up something good, in order to teach ourselves how to give up something bad. It’s crazy – and it works.
There is one incredibly important thing to remember about mortifications – if you don’t ask for God’s grace, and constantly ask Him to help you love Him more, you won’t be able to make any kind of mortification. To give up something perfectly reasonable and good is completely contrary to our “normal” way of thinking and behaving. You need to have a pretty solid motivation to successfully push against that. The only motivation big enough is our love for an infinitely loving, merciful, and perfect Person. Since we’re imperfect people, we have an imperfect love of God, so the motivation sometimes isn’t big enough. You have to constantly ask for God’s grace.
So, if you’ve already been doing these mortifications, kudos! St. Francis de Sales says that the devil always stands a little more in awe of the people who can sacrifice like that. Pretty cool, right? If you haven’t been making mortifications yet, you can start right away. Step 1: pray to Our Lord for His grace and that He might increase your love for Him. Step 2: repeat step 1. I’m not going to lie. Mortifications are tough. Sometimes you might just have to repeat over and over again, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, increase my love for Thee”. And then grit your teeth and buckle down to it. But it is totally worth it, I promise!
Mortifications can be anything really – for example, giving up ice cream completely on the night that everyone else has some. You may not be able to do that yet, and that’s fine. Just have one flavor of ice cream instead of two, or have only half as much as you’d want, or skip the whipped cream. Then you can gradually work up to having no ice cream at all. Or when you’re driving, you might leave the radio off for the first five minutes in the car. This will pertain more to people who like to listen to the radio. Or – here’s a really great one! – turn the shower water on as cold as you can stand, and say a Hail Mary for holy purity. (Then you can turn it on as hot as you’d like.) Things like that. They don’t have to be huge – but they do have to be a sacrifice. Remember when you were a little kid and Mom told everyone to pick something to offer up for Lent and everyone was like, “I offer up my homework and green beans for Lent”? This does not qualify.
It’s going to be tough, but God’s grace is an incredibly potent supernatural “weapon”. You will not regret making these mortifications. Remember – you make mortifications because you love Our Lord, you want to love Him more, and you want to avoid offending Him.
The whole reason we do this is because we’re crazy for the love of God. He is the beginning and the end, and we should live our lives as if He is the ultimate reason why we do anything.
Have courage! He is with you!
Namárië, dear readers!
In Pace Christi,
Pippin of the Shire