How Lenten Penance Can Springboard Your Spiritual Growth

Mortification–the Catholic Lenten treat.

Every year, on Ash Wednesday, Catholics gear up for the annual torture fest…Lent! What will you give up this year? Chocolate…again? Coffee? Ooh, that’s gonna hurt!

Why do we enter into this pain every year? Do Catholics just love to suffer? Or, is it really true that the Church doesn’t want us to have too much fun? (Hint: that’s not the answer!)

Well, there is an aspect of sorrow and reparation for sin that is expressed in giving up the stuff you enjoy, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a science to spiritual growth and Lenten mortification can serve as a springboard for renewal.

What is mortification anyway?

Mortification is one of those great Catholic words that people “in the know” throw around.

Mortifications are penances that involve some form of self-denial. Fasting is one of the primary forms. In Latin, mortis means death. Mortification “puts to death” sinful tendencies and desires that are sometimes hard to control.

Saying no to destructive desires can be a very good thing.

Matthew Kelly on Lenten fasting

In Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly says,

“The Lenten experience is a perfect example of the Church’s intimate understanding of the nature of the human person. The forty days of Lent are an ideal period for renewal. Lent is the perfect span of time to form new life-giving habits and abandon old self-destructive habits. But most of us just give up chocolate and when Easter arrives we are not much further advanced spiritually than we were at the beginning of Lent” (p. 259).

The springboard for spiritual growth

It takes about 30 days to form a habit. So, like Matthew Kelly suggests, why not put the 40 days of Lent to good use?

What is your biggest vice? Figure that out and start doing things to defeat it! Make a concentrated effort during Lent and you can slack off later but it will be easier to continue.

  • Get angry easily? Give up arguing back. Stay silent when someone is mean to you (and you thought giving up chocolate was hard?).
  • Insanely jealous of that coworker? Go out of your way to congratulate them or wish them well.
  • Do you spend too much on stuff you don’t need? Give up shopping for whatever you buy too much of…clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets, etc.
  • Never make time to pray? Set up a schedule of daily prayer and make it a priority.
  • Have a problem with lust? Fast from looking at beautiful women the wrong way or from viewing porn.

Choose only one. That’s not so hard right? Besides, that’s all you’ll have energy for.

In Catholic spirituality, this is called working against your predominant fault. You have one vice that’s worse than any other. If you work on that one, the others will follow. That’s because good habits are all connected.

Catechetical Takeaway

Self-denial is important in the spiritual life.

Since the Fall, we don’t have complete control over our emotions. Passions like love, anger, hatred and pride can lead us to do stupid things. Our desires for food, sex, wealth and success enslave us. They can become overwhelming and lead to unhealthy attitudes.

Mortifications work to “put to death” these often unruly passions and desires. Once you kill them, you can control them. Control of your actions leads to freedom. So, ironically, mortification brings fullness of life–not death.

Your turn:

  • Can you think of other creative ways to mortify the more “popular” vices? The comment box is open!


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  1. Dear Marc, I just happened by your Website by chance while asking a question about Prayer. To my amazement
    the subject is on another issue that I have been waiting for an answer from Father God about. My Heart’s Desire.
    I have been single now for 31 yrs.,not dating in all of this time. I prayed to find a Man of God to come into my life and fall in love with me as I will him,not lust. I have had lustful relationships before and they ended in a lot of hurt and pain. It is hard to keep waiting for that special person . I want to marry again, but,I keep getting, Is.40:31
    Wait on the Lord. I have been greatly encouraged by the
    comments on your Website by others who seem to be going through the same issue. The key thing that I Got out of your Website is: Matt.6:33 Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and He will add all of these things to us. In Everything We must put Father God First,not our Heart’s Desire for a mate,a job,a car,house,anything that comes before our Love and Desire for Father God is a Sin.Amen

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Hi Myrtle! That is so cool that you got the answer to a different question. God works, doesn’t he?

      That is a great way to put it! I think you’re right, Matt 6:33 is exactly the verse that fits this. If we put his desires for us first, everything right will follow. The hardest thing is accepting that his will may not fit with our will. I just had one of those episodes happen today. I realized that I’ll have to give up my ideas on this matter and place them in God’s hands. If he wants them to happen, they will.

      Really, holiness is aligning your will perfectly with God’s and allowing him to lead you. Then, by prayer and discernment of spirits, you try to figure out where he’s leading. Much easier said than done but that’s what we should be striving for.

      Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!


  1. […] The remnants of sin are like seeds sown in our souls. They incline us to more sin and keep us farther from God. We can’t simply moderate them, they have to be put to death–mortified! […]

  2. […] he longs to lavish on us. Because of our fallen nature, sometimes these get in the way. We have to mortify these–put them to […]

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