39: 5 Penances Catholics Can Do Instead of Self-Flagellation
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Lent is almost here! What are some penances catholics can do?
Sometimes when we want to suffer for our Lord, we are drawn to external mortifications and penances like self-flagellation (whipping), or wearing hairshirts and cilices.
Why is that?
Two reasons – first, we want to go hardcore and in our minds, whipping yourself is EXTREMELY hardcore.
The second reason, is one we might not like admitting.
Maybe we find it easier to self-flagellate than to restrain ourselves from answering an insult?
Dom Scupoli, in his book, the Spiritual Combat, suggests some other penances that we might do instead of, or in addition to, any external mortification.
In this podcast, we look at 5 other options.
5 Penances Catholics Can Do Instead of Self-Flagellation
- Silence & retirement;
- Humility & charity;
- Patient endurance of the greatest injuries;
- Render good for the evil of your enemies;
- Take care to avoid the smallest faults;
Mentioned in this Podcast
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- Don’t Choose Your Own Mortifications; Accept the Opportunities for Interior Mortification That God Sends You
- The Litany of Humility
- The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
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Many of us, when we are new to the faith, become practically obsessed with external modifications such as flagellation or wearing a hair shirt (a shirt made with coarse fibers that irritate the skin or might even hurt), or maybe wearing a cilice (a metal contraption that goes around the leg that digs into your skin). I’m told that some members of Opus Dei actually wear these cilices, and so become obsessed, with suffering for our Lord, and we wan’t to do the most harshest penances.
Now, I’m not going to say there’s anything wrong with that. Obviously, a lot of the saints practice this kind of modification in this modern day. It is usually advised that you speak to a spiritual director before doing anything like that. Why is that? You have to be sure that your motivation and your intent is correct. Why do you wan’t to flog yourself? Is it because you want to help to resist some kind of sin?
Is it because you are attracted to the idea, to the image of flagellating yourself? Remember that in this day and age, there is an S&M community that deals with these things. So maybe you had a background in that, or maybe you’ve seen images and just the thought of it attracts you. You have to be sure that your intentions are pure. So I think it’s good advice to advise that you speak to someone when you feel like getting into these really harsh penances. There are other more mild penances that you can do, such as taking a cold shower. I don’t think that requires anything, but some of these harsher penances… I would speak to a priest or spiritual director, but why is it that people are attracted to these kind of penances? My opinion is that the reason that we are attracted to these penances is that they, in fact, are easier than some other penances, even though they appear to be harder. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to To lifesmithing. My name is Cynthia Burley.
I have an article on beautysoancient.com that speaks about not looking for penances and modifications and not creating our own mortifications, but actually accepting the mortifications that God sends us.
God knows what’s good for us, and because He knows what’s good for us, He sends us just what we need. And in reality, internal mortifications tend to be harder than external modifications. What do I mean by that? It’s a lot easier to get into your room and flog yourself than it is to keep your mouth shut. When someone says something that insults you, or, that offends you, it’s a lot easier to whip yourself than to actually resist our egos, to resist our pride. It’s a lot easier. So because I know this from experience, I’m not saying that I flagellate myself, I mean from experience about internal versus external modifications, I thought I’d talk about five other penances that you can do besides, or in addition to, I’m not going to judge.
I don’t know your business. I don’t know your spiritual life or your spiritual level. I’m just saying here are some other options that you can do instead of flagellatingyourself or wearing a hair shirt or wearing a cilice.
And I got this idea from the Spiritual Combat by Dom Scupoli. You guys know that I love that book. And there’s a chapter in there called The Defense Against the Artifices of the Devil, where he suggests indiscreet devotions. And it basically talks about how the devil might give you ideas or things to do, maybe things that are just too much or not really what you should be doing so that he can distract you. And so he gave some ideas of some penances, austerities that any one of us, as Christians, can practice without necessarily going into some of this physical stuff. Although he does address the physical stuff later, we’re going to focus on five things that he suggests that we all can do, that we all will find hard, for the good of our souls.
The first one is he says that Christians may imitate the saints in their silence and retirement. We live in such a noisy world, don’t we? And sometimes we have to be able to retire into our cell, so to speak. You know how the religious, they have the little rooms with just a little cot, a little dresser? They call it their cell. We can have our own cells, figuratively. So, it’s important that we sometimes withdraw from the world and spend time with God in silence. And the saints all did this, including St. Dominic. St. Dominic spent a lot of time with his friars walking from city to city and preaching, because that is the mission of the Order of Preachers. But he also spent a lot of time before the Blessed sacrament, praying, meditating in silence with his God. So it’s very important that we are able to sometimes withdraw from the world and focus on silence.
What’s the second way we can imitate the Saints? Dom Scupoli says , “in their humility and charity to all men.”
Let’s be honest, sometimes we are highly uncharitable. When you see someone that gets on your nerves, be charitable to them for the sake of God. Love them for the sake of God. If you love God, you will love his creatures. Be charitable, be humble. And for that, I recommend the litany of humility, which I just posted recently on the Facebook page, beautysoancient.comcom. Do not allow our pride to get in the way. The saints were humble so we can be humble.
Now, being humble is one of the hardest penances ever, because naturally because of our pride, we always want to appear to be amazing. We always want to appear to be smart, beautiful, rich, someone of influence. It’s natural. And so to fight that desire, requires a lot. To figh that desire is very austere.
Now, tell me, which is more of a harsher penance, fighting our pride or wearing a hairshirt? I guarantee you, it’s fighting our pride.
What’s the third way? He says, “Patient endurance of the greatest injuries. And of course, by injuries we don’t mean physical injuries, we mean injuries to our pride, our ego. That kind of goes along with number two, right?
Patient enduring if you are at work, and you’re always passed over for the promotion, It doesn’t mean that you don’t let your boss know the quality of your work and what you’re doing, and that you try to get promotions. But if you get passed over, you know it’s not God’s will at this time (patient enduring). Or you wait patiently until you’re able to get another job.
Your spouse doesn’t give you the affirmation that you need? Sometimes you have to patiently bear it. Yes, you can tell your spouse, “It would be nice if you would sometimes tell me I’m doing a good job.” You can let them know. But at some point you have to patiently endure it, right? Because it’s not about us to get recognition.
Your friend sometimes says things that you find offensive. Yes, it’s important that you let your friend know what’s offensive to you, but if they keep doing it, if it’s their nature, at some point, if you value the friendship, if they have other good qualities, I’m not talking about a toxic relationship where you need to put some distance, but if the friend has other good qualities and you want to keep the friendship, we have to learn to patiently endure.
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What’s number four?
Number four, rendering good for the evil of their worst enemies. Oh man, that one is tough. Like if someone is really your enemy, you know they don’t like you, you know, they try to hurt you as much as they can … How do you render good? Simple example. You know someone that you don’t like and you know they don’t like you. And you know they’ve been looking for work for a long time in a particular field.. you know, of someone who’s hiring. Now in the natural, in a human nature, what we wan’t to say is, I’m not going to let him know that. He does me nothing but evil. I want him to starve. I want him to not find work. But because we want to be saintly, we want to render good for evil, we go up to our enemy — and by by enemy, I know, some of you might say, “We shouldn’t have enemies.” Well, you know what I mean by enemy, I mean someone who you don’t like. And there are people we don’t like — someone who always tries to do something to you and hurt you in some way. They talk about you at work or they gossip about you in church. Your enemy.
You walk up to your enemy and you say, “Hello, Mr. Enemy, you’re looking for work, right? I know someone who’s hiring. Here’s the number ,” and that’s it. You give it and you walk away. You rendered good for evil. They may thank you — most likely they’ll thank you, but maybe they won’t. They may thank you and then two weeks later, they’re doing bad to you again, whatever.
I always have to make a disclaimer. That doesn’t mean you’re a doormat, etetc.. You giving someone a job lead does not make you a doormat. That’s not what I’m referring to.
But when you see an opportunity to do good, do good. And the last one is, Dom Scupoli says, “We should imitate the saints in their care to avoid the smallest faults.
Now, we know we talk about venial sin and mortal sin, and we tend to ignore venal sin. And I will probably link to one of the articles I have on venial sin. Venial sins can become mortal sins, if we’re not careful. We have to be focused on avoiding the smallest faults. A little small white lie, a little gossip here and there. Ah, just minor gossip. Nothing really hateful, just a little bit, something small that you do that’s a bit selfish. These little things, these little faults. You know, maybe you snap at your daughter or your spouse and then you say, I’m sorry later. But you know, you tend to do that.
But you know, that’s just you. The saints did not want to sin, period. Are we probably going to sin? Probably. But should we make an effort not to sin? Absolutely. Take care to avoid the smallest faults.
That goes for social media, especially Twitter. I have a Twitter account, but I’m rarely on Twitter at all. I can’t take the spirit of Twitter, if you know what I mean. The spirit of Twitter is, if you wan’t to get attention, you have to be snarky, sarcastic, mean … you have to say mean things to people, you have to judge them a certain way. You can’t just post nice little pictures and post nice little quotes. You have to say cutting things. That’s Twitter. And I find that a lot of Catholics that are online, you see them one way on Facebook, but on Twitter, they’re mean because they need to get attention. That’s how you grow your Twitter following. And that’s why my Twitter following is very small. I’m rarely on there and I really don’t want to do that. That’s not my purpose. So you can’t be bipolar when it comes to your Catholicism. You can’t one minute be nice and you’re posting spiritual things and then on Twitter, you’re like a devil. You can’t do that, right? So that’s why I’m not on Twitter a lot. And my feeling is that these Catholics who are often very good Catholics, they don’t look at it as something like bad. They, they look at it as, “Yeah, I’m a little snarky on Twitter. But you know, that’s how it is. That’s how the game is played.”
Be careful and take care to avoid the smallest faults. Don’t say, Hey, I’m not perfect. I’m going to say in training. If it’s within your will, take care to avoid it.
Sometimes we sin without meaning to . We do something and we’re like, “Oops, ugh, I shouldn’t have done that.” That’s different. We’re all going to do stuff like that. But a lot of times, you know ahead of time, that what you’re about to say or do is actually not proper. It’s actually a defect, or maybe a venial sin, maybe even a mortal sin. So, take care to avoid the smallest fault.
So, in summary, the five other things you can do in addition to, or instead of, the flagellating or the hair shirt or whatever else you feel drawn to, whatever else you feel inspired to do.
1) imitate the saints in their silence and retirement.
2) in their humility and charity to all men.
3) In patient, endurance of the greatest injuries.
4) in rendering good for the evil of their worst enemies.
5) to take care to avoid the smallest faults.
I hope this podcast was very helpful to you. Please pray for me and I’ll pray for you. Have a blessed weekend. Saint Ignatius of Loyola says, he who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor. Until we decide to reform ourselves, we cannot hope to have any influence on our families, our culture, our politics, our world.