God loved us so much that He gave us His only Son to die for us.
Christ’s was the ultimate sacrifice, to lay down His life to redeem us and to re-build our relationship with God which sin had destroyed.
There is nothing we can do to repay that sacrifice. Not a million candles lit in church, not a million flowers, or a million Rosaries. Nothing we do will repay what Christ did for us.
That is not to say that we should stop doing these things. We do them out of reverence, love and respect for our Creator and not as an act of repayment. I have lit many a candle in my time and will continue to do so.
Fasting and abstinence are also similar forms of sacrifices which we do out of reverence rather than as an act of repayment.
And then … we come to the wearing of hairshirts, flagellations and similar bodily punishments practiced by the faithfuls since times long past.
Saint Francis of Assisi suffered severe self-afflicted penances like flagellations and the use of a hairshirt.
Saint Catherine of Sienna used to undergo extreme fasting for long periods, wore sackcloth and scourged herself three times a day.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola practiced severe mortifications. He wore a hair shirt and heavy iron chain, and was in the habit of wearing a cord tied below the knee.
Saint Thomas More, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque, and many other Saints and elders of the Church practiced mortification and self-punishments.
Even Pope John Paul II, I understand practiced self-flagellation and fasting before important events.
I’m sure you can name other Saints and prominent members of our Church who did the same.
I understand the need for such extreme sacrifices originate from many quotations from the Bible, but mainly from the words of Jesus when He asked us to take up our Cross and follow Him.
I wonder and ask:
Did He really mean that we should inflict pain and mutilation on our bodies to gain forgiveness for our sins and that of others?
Or did He say that this world is full of suffering, some of which will come our way, and that we should accept it as best we can in Faith and trust that it is His will and that it will turn out for the good? And that He will not allow more suffering to come our way than we can possibly endure?
Does self-inflicted bodily harm have a place in our lives today and does it buy us any favors with God?
Christ’s Commandment to us was to love Our God and to love one another. No where can I find Him saying that we should punish ourselves in order to gain entrance to Heaven.