Mention the word mortification today and most people are mortified. It is a concept most often associated with ancient self-inflicted rituals such as flagellation, hairshirts and wooden beds and is considered by many to be both primitive and futile.
Modern attitudes to such practices were typified in the writings of Dan Brown who associated these behaviours with a crazed, murderous monk in The DaVinci Code. The portrayal suggested that these choices were not ones made by sane individuals and were; in fact, contrary to the intellectual evolution that has led us to today’s unprecedented comforts and conveniences.
During a recent visit to Melbourne I was led to ponder these radically diverse ways of thinking, that is, the voluntary pursuit of discomfort versus the voluntary pursuit of pleasure. It was at the time of “Coreymania”, when a 16-year-old Melbournian had hosted a party that spiralled out of control and led to the intervention of riot police and a $20,000 bill for the taxpayer. Corey was suddenly thrust into the global spotlight and his apparent lack of remorse generated a media frenzy condemning the virtues, or lack thereof, of Generation Y (born 1980-95).
According to many reports this was the most self-obsessed, materialistic and impulsive generation to have ever set foot on the planet. The combination of unparalleled access to communication and electronic technology and the lack of recognisable behavioural boundaries had apparently created a generation that sought to satisfy their own desires like no other before them.
However, it seemed that while the media was intent on exposing the faults of Corey and his peers, little time was being dedicated to why these traits may exist in the first place. Here was a generation reared in a society that tenaciously sought to fulfil their every desire, yet there seemed to be genuine surprise and anger at the by-product.
Consider the predicament of Generation Y. They are confronted daily with a media that encourages them to satisfy their sexual urges, with governments even stepping in to provide the necessary information and equipment, but then they are condemned for the increase in unplanned pregnancies and sexual disease.
They are bombarded with the rewards of materialism and then deemed selfish for pursuing them. They are chastised for not showing more self-control, yet legislation makes it increasingly difficult for parents and teachers to create boundaries through disciplinary measures. They are given access to abortion if they believe that this new life is going to infringe upon them in any way, but then admonished for not respecting the rights of others. And the list goes on.
This is a generation that have become the victims of society’s paradoxical values. We encourage them to become puppets to their desires but then condemn them when they become prisoners of them. We have failed to teach that succumbing to every want is more likely to lead them down a path of self-destruction rather than self-fulfilment.
Instead we have fostered our children in an environment of self-obsession and led them away from the wisdom of our Christian ancestors, who knew that true liberation came, not by surrendering to one’s urges, but by overcoming them.
That is not to say that we must whip ourselves into holiness, but it is vital that we understand the fervent passion that inspired these saints. For it is a passion that was born from Jesus’ own anguished cry to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, and one that we all need to embrace; “Not mine, but Thy will be done”.