The What and Why of Mortification

by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.

The best description of mortification was given by Our Lord. He said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Mortification, therefore, is self-denial. And self-denial is doing the will of God, even when the Divine will crosses at right angles to our will. Mortification is the imitation of Christ in the surrender of what we naturally like in order to please God.

Self-Denial to Make Up for Past Sins

There is one big difference, however, between our mortification and the self-denial that Christ practiced in doing the will of His Father. We are sinners who must practice mortification to make up in greater generosity to God for our failure to love Him as we should have in the past. We are sinners who must expiate our sinful self-indulgence by giving up creatures we might otherwise lawfully enjoy.

It Is More Than Important

Mortification is not only important, it is necessary. Why?

  • Because only mortified persons are willing to surrender to God the most precious possession they have, namely their own self-will.
  • Only mortified persons are willing to love God in the patient endurance of whatever crosses He sends them.
  • Only mortified persons are living in the “real” world where sins are so widespread and where sinners need the grace of repentance to be gained by the prayerful penance of the friends of God.

Patience and Faithfulness

We can practice mortification by giving up some delicacy in food or drink, or some pleasure that we could legitimately have. But we also practice mortification every time we patiently accept whatever trial or pain He sends us, and every time we faithfully carry out whatever His mysterious providence commands of us.

It is this second kind of mortification that Jesus had in mind when He told us that “anyone who loses his life for My sake, will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

The Key to Heaven

If we are willing to mortify (literally “cause death to”) our self-will in this world, we shall gain eternal life in the world to come. On these terms, only mortified people will enter Heaven.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica. Used with Permission
Previously published in The Tilma, Fall 2006.