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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mortification: works-righteousness or love?

Back in my Opus Dei days, mortification was a relevant topic. I never came close to becoming a numerary, but those three on-and-off years were blessed years anyway. As I told my wife, they were among my most peaceful. Mortification was a key element. It can be easily misunderstood as a means of earning my way to salvation, but that is far from what is taught.

Why delay that drink of water? Why shower in cold water? Why walk the extra mile? Why bite back that irritated retort? The clear lesson from St. Josemaria Escriva was that this was training. Training for what? The most succint answer came to me the other day while meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. Daily mortification is training for love by small exercises -- deliberately done for love.

Every ounce of pain and sorrow that the Lord endured, from birth to Calvary, was for love. We share that calling. The thought came to me that, one day, or perhaps in several occasions throughout our lives, the Lord will invite us to some considerable acts of love. Watching my wife's sacrifice with the kids, I know she has been called in a special way to acts of motherly love. My sisters go through the same with their children. Such occasions, where purely natural and human love would fail, is where supernatural and holy love is called for. Small acts of sacrifice -- mortification, or dying unto ourselves -- are the small exercises in preparation for those times. We must die to our self-love so that it does not hold us back from loving God and our neighbor. For love of our God, we want to be well-prepared for the opportunities that will come.

Some of the above mentioned exercise seem insignificant. But think about how we train up our children with small, seemingly trivial exercises, which turn out to be indispensable. Not because they are objectively important, but they are the necessary single steps to walk a mile, then two, and so on.

The Lord invites us to pick up our daily crosses, and I heartily agree that delaying a drink of water is nothing compared to holding back an angry retort. But any act, with a holy intention, with love as the inspiration and the rule, becomes a supernatural act. Not in order to merit salvation, but rather to condition ourselves to love as the Lord wills.

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