The Roman Catholic church teaches its members to offer up their pain and suffering to God as an atonement, united with Christ’s atonement, for personal sins and the sins of others.
“Offering up our troubles to God is a great way to remember that, in our faith, suffering is never wasted or meaningless when it’s united with Christ’s suffering on the Cross, for atonement for sins.” – from “Prayers for Offering Up Suffering,” ourcatholicprayers.com
Not content with natural aches, pains, and illnesses, zealous Roman Catholics began to inflict pain and suffering upon themselves as acts of penance for themselves or others or as attempts to mortify the flesh, via the following examples:
- Wearing hair shirts
- Sleeping on the bare floor
- Wearing a cilice – a metal contraption worn around the thigh which inflicted pain. See my post here.
- Practicing self-flagellation – Catholics used a “flagrum,” a specially made whip, or ropes or belts to whip themselves. See my post here.
- Walking barefoot – The “discalced” (shoeless) religious orders require their members to go barefoot or wear only sandals.
- Practicing extreme fasting leading to illness and even death – St. Catherine of Siena is one of several saints who fasted to death
Lest anyone think these practices ended with the dark ages, mother Teresa wore a cilice daily and both she and pope John Paul II regularly scourged themselves.
The other day, I had googled “strange Catholic practices” and came across another method of self-mortification that I wasn’t aware of known as the “confraternity of the cord” (see bottom articles). Catholics can join a confraternity (i.e., pious association) created to honor specific saints (St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. Thomas, etc.) in which the members constantly wear a cord or belt (aka “cincture”) around their waist (presumably underneath their clothing). The cord can be tightened to cause discomfort and the resulting sufferings can be offered up to God. Confraternity cords are still available from Catholic religious orders (see here) and from Catholic religious supply houses (see here).
God’s Word directs believers to fast, but nowhere in Scripture are believers instructed to harm themselves as an act of penance or piety. That kind of harmful behavior was found among pagan religionists like the priests of Baal in 1 Kings, chapter 18:
“And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” – 1 Kings 18:26-28
These days, Catholic self-mortification practices are not widely publicized for obvious reasons. The only reason we’re aware that mother Teresa and JPII harmed themselves in acts of daily “piety” is because of their extremely high public profile.
Catholic friend, the Lord does not require you to harm yourself. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Repent of your sin and pray to Jesus Christ to be your Savior by faith alone, and come out of Catholicism. Jesus atoned for ALL of your sins if you will only accept Him. After you have trusted in Christ, ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that preaches God’s Word without compromise.
Confraternities of the Cord
Top 10 Bizarre Aspects of Catholicism