Stories & Reflections
Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep on a bare floor to bring himself closer to Christ. “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption ,” says his letter Salvifici Doloris
New research shows that some form of “mortification of the flesh” — the old-fashioned term for inflicting physical discomfort for spiritual growth — can in fact alleviate feelings of guilt.
“One reason may be that the experience of physical pain alleviates feelings of guilt associated with immoral behavior,” Brock Bastian writes in an article titled “Cleansing the Soul by Hurting the Flesh,”.
In short, Bastian argues, we want to give meaning to pain, to portray it as a comprehensible part of a cosmic balance sheet or a means of achieving justice so that suffering is not pointless; indeed, the Latin word for pain is poena, which means “penalty.”
“Understood this way, pain may be perceived as repayment for sin in three ways,” he writes.
“First, pain is the embodiment of atonement. Just as physical cleansing washes away sin…physical pain is experienced as a penalty, and paying that penalty reestablishes moral purity.
“Second, subjecting oneself to pain communicates remorse to others (including God) and signals that one has paid for one’s sins, and this removes the threat of external punishment.
“Third, tolerating the punishment of pain is a test of one’s virtue, reaffirming one’s positive identity to oneself and others.”
Read more: The Economist The masochism tango
David Gibson: Ash Wednesday Idea: Beat Guilt This Lent — Literally
CNN: Pope John Paul II self-flagellated to get closer to Jesus