The Virtue of Mortification

What is Mortification and What does it entail?

Mortification can be better understood as something similar to self-discipline or even sacrifice. It means giving up something we value for the sake of something more valuable. Mortification is necessary for everyone, always and everywhere. When we mortify ourselves, we become better and draw closer to holiness. However, this kind of perfections requires sacrifice and struggle. We struggle in mortifying; our desires for esteem, honor, passions, love for riches, sensual pleasure, our haste to judge, useless thoughts, evil imaginations and negative criticism among others. We should strive to learn to use our mind to reflect on how best we can improve our actions, how we can overcome sin and rouse ourselves to charity.

Contemporary understanding on mortification

A virtue is a habit which requires us to do something over and over again. It makes a person morally perfect. People who are virtuous are inclined to do that which is morally good. It enables individual to perform his actions delightfully no matter how challenging or demanding they are. The virtue of mortification is not unpopular in contemporary society. Most of people are afraid to pursue that which is challenging and demanding.  Mortification calls us to embrace our crosses regardless of suffering we encounter.

We ought to understand that through the pain we go through and willingness to put aside that is pleasurable and seek that which is necessary enables us to be better humans. In today’s world, individuals are mostly inclined to spend most of their time doing that which pleases them. They forget to ask themselves the questions; how does it influence my life? does it affects others? How does it contribute to my relationship with other people? Or does it draw me closer to God? Thus, many people end up falling into extremes positions. Such extremes affect the way we relate with others and also with God. We become victims of bad habits, sin becomes normancy, we kill our conscience, ego becomes our enemy, moral relativism, our love for God and neighbour is weakened. As a result, our societies have become toxic and morality has been weakened.

In the contemporary world, people have become insensitive to the needs of others. There is a temptation among individuals to gather everything for themselves even by use of wrong means. Everybody wants to spent time with those whom he is more attracted to and in most cases we are not willing to reach out even to those who are less pleasing to us. There is immoderate indulgence to pleasure without conscience, misuse of the social media. We also experience a lot of negative criticisms, impolite and divisive speeches, and haste in judging others, injustices, inner pride and people who are not ready to forgive.  However, all is not lost for we can retrieve the virtue of mortification which will enable us grow into holiness, have healthy interpersonal relationships and build a society in which everyone have a sense of belonging.

Vincentian Understanding of the virtue of Mortification

St Vincent defines mortification as subjection of passion to reason. He sought to explain this virtue by pointing out what it entails. For him mortification entails:

  1. Denial of exterior senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Our eyes must be disciplined in a way that we refrain from that which is dangerous for they are the windows of the soul. Let us make good use of our eyes. Taste is mortified by being moderate especially in food, drinks and by fasting. We should learn to endure bad smells especially when we are dealing with the sick poor. Employ moderation in using television, radio, movies, and other media.
  2. Denial of interior senses: understanding, memory and will. It is necessary to mortify our memory and imagination from reproducing images, remembrances and facts which cause dissipation or lead us to seductive temptations, or sins against purity, charity and temperance.
  • Denying the passions of the soul for example cultivating for love where there is hate, unity in diversity, and hope in despair and virtue in sin.
  1. Growing in modesty imitating Christ who was modest during His life. It urges us to be modest in regard to our dressing and cleanliness. Regarding modesty, St Louis says “each person should dress according to his state of life, so that the wise and dignified persons will not say, you dress too gaudily, nor the young say you did not adorn yourself enough”. Everything must be regulated, be it giving an opinion, posture, dressing, studying, recreating or playing.
  2. Mortifying our tongues by speaking at the proper time be silent when silence is necessary and avoiding conversations which are suggestive. It encourages us to avoid grumbling for it disrupts charity if it against the young people; and if against our leaders it destroys obedience. Let us avoid negative criticisms, speaking hurriedly, discouraging others, praising ourselves. It is important to listen to other people, advices, corrections, discussions and songs which do not harm the spirit.
  3. Seeking to be those whom we less speak to as those whom we are attracted. Mortification strengthens our bonds when we reconcile and forgive one another.

The Relevance of the virtue of Mortification during Lenten Season

The period of lent is a catholic liturgical season consisting of forty days of prayer, fasting and penitence. It is a period of preparation to celebrate the lord’s passion, death and resurrection. During lent, people focus on prayer, fasting and charity. Prayer during this period focuses on our need for God’s forgiveness. Fasting or giving something up (sacrifice) to help other people who are suffering. We also give up something which is a regular part of our lives like time for social media and utilize it to connect with God. Fasting is a way of responding to God’s grace, generosity and love.

Mortification drives us to the spirit of prayer, realizing our frailty to sin and the need of God’s mercy. In the spirit of lent, Christians are invited to mortify both their internal and external senses. This enables then to overcome sensual sins which are as a result of human immoderate passions. However, due to human creatureliness, we are constantly in need of God’s mercy. Christians are therefore encouraged to regularly attend to the sacrament of penance.

During this period, we are also encouraged to be source of hope and encouragement especially to those who are desperate, the abandoned, secluded and the needy. It challenges us to go an extra mile in reaching out even to those who they are not close to.

Cleanliness and modesty is an invitation to be sensitive to the people we live with. Christians are called to be modest by having constructive criticism, being humble, being silent if it is necessary, dressing modestly, having modest speech and reaching out to the other party in a gentle way. In other words, they should mortify their tongues by practicing modesty. St Vincent challenges us to be people of self-discipline who are witnesses of the Gospel and whom Christ is the centre of our lives.


In the Gospel of Luke 6:37-42, we are encouraged t be slow in judging or condemning others. Instead we are challenged to forgive one another. Luke challenges us to be merciful just like or heavenly father. If Christians cultivate the virtue of mortification in their lives, they will not run into traps of extremes but rather they will be always moderate in their dealings. Let go your old self and embrace your new self. Consequently, we experience metanoia in this period of lent and Christ will truly be the centre of their lives. We will be able to build a community in which every human has a sense of belonging.

Scriptural and Vincentian quotes on the virtue of Mortification

Mortifying bodily passion;

“Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors of the flesh. For if we live according to flesh you will die, but if by spirit you put to death the deeds of the body and you will live” (Romans 8:12-13.)

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whomever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it” (Mt 16:24-25).

“Be not hasty in your utterance and let not your heart be quick to make promise in God’s presence. God is in heaven and you upon earth, therefore let your words be few” (Eccl 5:1).

“Strengthen your dropping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed. Strive for peace with everyone and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See it that no one be deprived of grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many become defiled” (Heb 12:12 -15).

St Vincent DePaul quotes;

“Gentlemen, let us keep this example before our eyes… let us never lose sight of mortification of our Lord , seeing that to follow him we are obligated to mortify ourselves after his example. Let us model our affections upon His, so that his footsteps may be the guide of ours in a way of perfection.” (SV XII, 227).

“Regarding your intention to work hard at mortifying the judgment and self-will of your seminarians, let me tell you, Monsieur that, this cannot be done all at once but only gradually, gently, and patiently.”

“Mortification, like all the other virtues, is acquired only by repeated acts, and especially this kind [mortification of the self-will], which is the most difficult. So, you must be satisfied with leading your charges toward this step by step, without expecting to attain it for a long time to come because there is a long way to go, except when God is pleased to dispense with the usual means.”

“Always have a moderate tone of voice, never abrupt or sharp. Avoid very, extremely, horribly; all exaggeration.”

“Prefer to listen to others rather than to speak yourself; and yet speak appropriately, avoiding as extremes both speaking too much, which prevents others from telling their thoughts, and speaking too little, which suggests a hurtful lack of interest in what they say.”

“Mortify your mind by denying it all fruitless imaginings, all ineffectual or wandering thoughts which waste time, dissipate the soul, and render work and serious things distasteful.”

Reference: Saint Vincent de Paul / Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, (August 1653 – June 1656), pg 443.


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