We don't hear a great deal about "mortification of the flesh" these days. Certainly there have been abuses of that practice in the past. I won't be resorting to flagellation in my Lenten bag of tricks. However, one of the practices I started last year and am doing again this year is ending my shower with cold water as long as I can stand it (which isn't very long). This year, I meditate on Christ's words, "This is my body, given up for you." I try to make Christ's words my own as I offer up my body and its minor suffering to him. This is unquestionably the Lenten practice I like the least--which probably means that it is the most spiritually productive for me. Further illustration of its efficacy came while I was thinking about someone at work who I do not get along with. As I was reciting Christ's words, it suddenly became clear to me that he died for this person, too. I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. and his poem, "O Deus Ego Amo Te" ("O God I Love Thee"):
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedest nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Why do these things? Why engage in such mortifications? Because, as Fr. Richard John Neuahaus says in his book, Death on a Friday Afternoon:
Forgiveness costs--it must cost--or else the trespass does not matter. Is such an intuition primitive? Yes, primitive as in primordial, as in that which constitutes our moral being in the world (p. 24).
Thanks to The Son Rise Morning Show on EWTN radio network (and originating here in Cincinnati) for talking about some applicable remarks by the agnostic sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark. In an interview with Mike Aquilina, Stark tells us that true religion costs us something:
Mike Aquilina: You say that Christianity succeeded in part because of its high moral standards. Today, however, many churches are lowering the bar to make religion more popular. How would you analyze their efforts?
Rodney Stark: They’re death wishes. People value religion on the basis of cost, and they don’t value the cheapest ones the most. Religions that ask nothing get nothing. You’ve got a choice: you can be a church or a country club. If you’re going to be a church, you’d better offer religion on Sunday. If you’re not, you’d better build a golf course, because you’re not going to get away with being a country club with no golf course.
As Fr. Larry Richards points out in his CD, "The Mass Explained," the mass cost Jesus his life; it should cost us our lives. Lent is about giving our lives to Christ, who gave his life for us.