Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Small Mortifications

Back when I was a godless communist, we all drank our coffee black because “lathering” your coffee (i.e. putting in cream and/or sugar) was bourgeois consumerism. The communist analysis of this has actually proven correct, as the rise of Starbucks illustrates. Our urban bourgeois (the so called “Yuppies”) have become ever more extravagant consumers of coffee, having long since abandoned simple “lathered Java” for espressos, cappuchinos, and “coffee drinks” that are confected with steamed milk and gooey syrups, topped with cascades of whipped cream and garnished with slivers of chocolate. Why, I feel positively echt proletarisch every time I drink black Joe straight from the pot.

Imagine then, how pleased I was to read the other day that Opus Dei numeraries drink their coffee black as a mortification. I had never really thought of this lingering trace of communist discipline in my life as a mortification, but that’s exactly what it had been right from the start, and it got me to thinking about the place of small mortifications in my life.

Of course, anyone with kids can name a dozen small mortifications they endure each day for their kids. Wife-mate used to like to soak in the tub for hours with a good mystery novel; it’s been years since she’s been able to do that. Frequently I would scarf down a whole pint of Haggen-Datz at one sitting, but now, not only can’t we afford the good stuff, but I pretty much just let the kids have ice cream for dessert while I content myself with another apple. If something for dinner is good, then my kids eat it right up; but if it is bad, then I’m the one that will have to finish the leftovers. Who gets to use the bathroom last? Who has to clean up the vomit? Who gives up his sweater when the afternoon turns cold and someone has forgotten hers? Do I even need to answer these questions?

The mortifications involved with having kids are perfectly natural, and that’s part of what makes them good for you. But they’re also things we do without thinking, they cease to be mortifications because we do them automatically. Similarly, many good habits cease to be mortifications: by now I don’t know if I would even want to put cream and sugar in my coffee.

Contrariwise, mortifications lose their value when they are done for show. Saint Benedict had it right when he corrected a monk who always took the worst piece of fruit in the bowl, for that was false modesty; he should take the first piece his hand fell upon, neither picking the best nor the worst.

I think that in our lives we need to look for mortifications, may of which are right there if you would only see them. The stairs we could take instead of the elevator, the trips that could be made by walking or bicycling instead of driving, the time that could be better spent in prayer than in listening to the radio — there are probably a thousand little things that we could take up as little crosses throughout the day.

This lent, I want to find them.

What mortifications do you find in everyday life?


Rick said...

Interesting insight coming from a non-capitalist background.

Christopher said...

One of my Confessors [FSSP] has suggested drinking black coffee as a mortification some time ago. I started to do this and it was a mortification - but Now I can't drink coffee with cream and sugar - its no longer a mortification - his next suggestion is to say your daily prayers while kneeling on your hands - I am still working on this one

John Jansen said...

What mortifications do you find in everyday life?

One thing I try to do in the winter, when possible, is to avoid turning on the heat when I'm in the car. And, in the summer, to avoid turning on the air conditioning when I'm in the car.

The Dutchman said...

One thing I try to do in the winter, when possible, is to avoid turning on the heat when I'm in the car. And, in the summer, to avoid turning on the air conditioning when I'm in the car.

Got you beat on that one John — I've avoided having a car entierly!

sunnyday said...

Being sincerely accommodating/pleasant to an acquaintance/officemate one doesn't like (for one reason or another) does wonders to the soul.

That, and saying a short prayer for each rude driver you encounter on the road. In Manila, the opportunities are nearly endless :-)

petrufied said...

I like coffee with and without cream, provided it's good coffee :) for mortification I would just skip coffee for a period of time. good way to save too. :)