“It is clear that fasting, watching, obedience, and the like withdraw man from sins of gluttony and lust and all other manner of sins.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 117. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
Indeed, this is the very purpose of the Holy Season of Lent, to withdraw ourselves from the world, from the flesh, from our habitual faults and sins. How else do we do this than by mortifying our flesh and our wills?
Fasting, as we know, mortifies the flesh by restricting the amount of food we eat, typically only enough to give us strength to go about our daily duties. There is no room for excess in fasting, and in fact, may often leave us feeling a ‘want,’ as though we do not have enough. Is this really because we need more food? Or is it because we are simply attached to the amount of food we typically eat, and in not receiving it, we sense a lessening? I often notice that on Sundays, which are not part of the Lenten fast, I cannot eat nearly as much as I think I can. I might prepare a regular sized meal that I would have eaten before the start of Lent and find myself leaving a lot on the plate. I don’t need as much anymore. The Lenten fast does this, you see; it moderates the appetite so that we are truly satisfied with what we really need, and do not feel the need for more. Hence, we are withdrawn from the sin of gluttony by fasting.
In watching, we mortify the sleepy eyes of our soul and our heart, which for some reason always long to be at rest, like the Apostles sleeping in the garden. Our Lord warned them, and warns us, to be sober and watchful, lest we enter into temptation. We must be always on guard against sin, especially when it comes to those sins, however small and venial, that we have a habit of committing. We must avoid those occasions which would lead us to these sins, being much more careful and aware about where we are and what we are doing. Those sins that we fall into the easiest are the hardest to correct, and the practice of being watchful mortifies our lazy intellects and hearts, which want to be content with not falling into some worse sin. No, my friends, this is the danger of tepidity, by which we can fall little by little into mortal sin by being asleep in our consciences and in our hearts to the dangers of all sin, and the tendency of small sins to build into larger, more serious ones that could deprive us of the life of God’s grace in our souls. Hence, by being watchful, we correct faults that we were previously unaware of and remain ever close to God by doing so.
Obedience, quite possibly the sweetest of the virtues, mortifies our stubborn wills and makes them bend to the will of another. Ah, this is such a hard virtue to learn, but such a treasure to possess! It makes submission sweet and offers every mortification of the will to God. For some this virtue is easier than for others, but I know from my own experience that obedience is a treasure I will have to work very hard for–and it will be all the more valuable and priceless once it is established in my heart! Our Lord’s obedience unto death is our precedent–He is our Great Exemplar of this wonderful virtue. Should the servant be greater than its master? And should we expect to escape the sweet yoke of obedience when Our Lord took it upon His shoulders in the form of a heavy Cross? By no means! Obedience to God, to His commandments, and to the rightful authorities He has placed over us, especially when it is hard and painful, is most pleasing to God; we must ask Him for the grace when we are tempted to exalt our will over the will of another, and remember the Child Jesus Who submitted to His Mother and foster-father St. Joseph in all things. We should be ashamed to think that we have more right to demand our wills be done when we see the sweet and humble obedience of Our Lord in all areas of His life! No; let us mortify our wills with this sweet virtue and thus avoid all the sins that spring from pridefulness, the very sin that cast the devil into Hell!
Throughout these last two weeks of the Holy Season of Lent, let us practice these wonderful virtues, mortifying our flesh, our intellects, our hearts and wills to bring them into union with the sweet will of God, Who wills nothing less than our salvation and sanctity, for we are His people, and as such must reflect the perfection of our Father, as Our Lord tells us: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, DRA).
P.S. There is a wonderful sermon by St. Alphonsus de Liguori on tepidity that you can listen to using this link: