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Q & A with Father Anthony

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Do religious people really want to suffer like the saints did?

Helen asks:

I have been reading a lot about the lives of the saints. I find them really fascinating, but there is one thing I have a problem with. I understand that a lot of them practiced some form of asceticism. It just doesn't seem right that someone would WANT to make themselves suffer. Do a lot of religious people still do this?


Dear Helen,

 Asceticism is voluntary sacrifice. Anybody who is really in love does it - you love someone and you try to please him, you put that person first, it's natural. At times you listen to that person's type of music, and not your own; you put up with some of his weaknesses; you take care of him when he is in need... and all the time you know and see that he wants to do the same for you.

Your Christian, Catholic way of life and your vocation are a love story.

You try to show Christ you love him above all things and you are grateful for all he has done for you, so you do things that someone who is not in love with him does not understand. You make time for him, you stick to your principles even though some of your friends may laugh at you; you do good to others because he said whatever we do to others we do to him, you repay evil not with hate but with love, doing good to those who injure you, you curb your appetites….

This is all quite clear. The problem arises when we understand by asceticism those huge, external penances that some of the great saints did (long fasting, scourging, etc.). These penances are only of value when done out of love. We know that the Church is like a body, and the good that each one does benefits everyone else in the body. So these saints, and there are many today who still do the same, did these penances to make up for their own sins, and to help spiritually in the conversion of those who are still far from Christ. The Church teaches us that when we are in grace and do something (especially a sacrifice) out of love, those acts are meritorious and can gain grace for ourselves and for others.

With their penances they unite themselves to Christ on the Cross and they intercede for sinners. We owe a lot of the graces we receive to those Catholics who pray and offer sacrifices for us.

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