Being a gift to Christ means to give him what we value most: life. What destroys life, what makes it ugly, is sin. It is ugly because it destroys a friendship, it destroys the relationship with the people you love. Friends give you the certainty that you are loved and you cannot help but love them back. To love them back properly, you must love and know yourself so that you can properly give them what they deserve: your heart. Sin, first of all, destroys the ability to love and know yourself properly. And since you cannot love your friend unless you first love yourself (“love one another as you love yourself”), then you cannot love your friend the way he ought to.
Sin also breaks the source which binds you together. When a person is in sin (mortal sin), he reduces his relationship with his friend to mere gestures and to their own intentions. We all know how reducing friendship to mere joyful gatherings and laughter will soon break down. If the basis of friendship is simply that you enjoy being with the other, then you will soon find out how easy this friendship will end. There will be a day when someone will be in a bad mood and things will be said that is not meant to be said. Next thing you know, you have not been in contact for a couple of years. There must be a reason, a reason that lasts, that keeps you coming back to the other. The basis of friendship cannot be yours or the other’s intentions. You know how fragile both of you are. What is important is to understand that the other is not your friend because you somehow chose him or her. You have a relationship with your friend because Someone gave him or her to you. Your friend reminds you of your Destiny, keeps the thought of Christ in your heart, and moves with you towards Him. What sustains your friendship is Christ. Break this relationship with Christ and your friendship will not last. This is why sin is ugly. It ruins the relationship you have with your friends, that is, the Church. This is why you cannot receive the Eucharist unless you are in good standing with Christ. You cannot receive the Eucharist because you have broken the bond between you and your friends.
Although sin makes you turn away from your friends, you realize that one fault of yours does not make the Church fail to exist. A person can steal from someone and yet, he can still give his friend a phone call. His friend still exists. This is a concrete sign that sin does not change the way God looks at you. The fact that you can still make that phone call reveals to you that no matter how bad you have become, it is nothing compared to the mercy of Christ. In fact, friends are those that look at you with love no matter what you do. They remind you that the very fact that you exist, you are loved. Sin destroys friendship, but it does not annihilate you. It cannot annihilate you because God’s love has the final word on you.
To summarize, sin breaks your friendship with Christ, which is friendship with the Church. This is why confession to a priest is necessary. Christ cannot exist without the Church. The Logos, the Eternal Son, can exist without the Church, but by the very fact that He was made flesh reveals to us that we must bow down to His humility, must accept His humanity. To reject Christ, the Incarnate Word, is to reject the Church. But rejecting the Church does not destroy her. It may destroy your relationship with her, but the Church is broader, much bigger, than your own intentions and your own love. The Church is loved by Christ, the love that make things endure, the love that shatters your own weaknesses.
The Church, your friends, give you the certainty about your Destiny; the Church gives you faith. However, the effect of sin destroys this ability to love yourself, that is, to love your Destiny. In other words, it makes you harder to love your friends, to love the Church. It makes you harder to be a gift to Christ. This is where mortification comes in. The first thing to understand about mortification is that it has to do with friendship. Friends solicit you to move closer to Christ, to live the path Christ has given you. They do not coerce you because you have free-will, but they do move you closer to him. They remind you and affect you in such a way that you will control yourself, that is, to keep your heart simple. To have a simple heart is to embrace everything, to love all of reality. This is hard to do, however. Sin reduces our love to the finite, to one aspect of reality. This is very important to keep in mind because a lot of people think that mortification is self-denial or makes Christianity very rigid. In fact, mortification is loving the path Christ has given you so that you can embrace all of reality. A man who is in love with a woman at work will not cheat on his wife. Not cheating is not some kind of self-repression, but the way he will truly love the woman at work. The way he will possess her is by staying on the path Christ gave him, which is his wife. To love his wife, to be faithful to her, is the way he can possess the woman at work. To love someone is to love his or her destiny. To have sex with the woman at work is not loving her destiny. It is not loving her true nature, her heart. It may be that the man has to “fight” this temptation, but it is not because he is denying himself. It is because he loves himself, he loves his destiny, and his destiny consists of being with his wife. So mortification is not so much of “Okay, I will choose a or b, which leads to my destiny?” It is more: how do I possess both a and b? By following the path Christ gave you. And if a is the path Christ has given you, then you will possess b as well because in a, you have Christ and he alone can make you embrace all of reality, he alone can make things last.
Friends help you to control yourself, that is, remind you to be oriented towards your destiny in everything that you do. They walk with you side by side facing the same direction. They make you restless. In other words, they make you beg for Christ. This is very clear when we understand that loving your friends, the people Christ gave you, is probably one of the hardest things to do. They will probably irritate you the most. But why do they irritate you? They irritate you because you want and expect more from them and they do not. This, however, if you know that Christ is the source of your friendship, will just make you tireless and restless in begging Christ to love and be loved properly. When you fight with them, you will probably feel a desire to call them in some way, to contact them so that things will get straighten out. This is the beginning of mortification. You can know that you can control yourself, that you can love your destiny more than things which are at first very attractive, when you can love your friends no matter what their weaknesses are. You want to love them because you realize the Presence in them. You recognize that there is Someone begging you to say “You!” at this very moment. Mortification is longing to be a friend.
The basis behind mortification, corporal mortification included, is being reminded of who we are made for, that we are a friend, a gift to Christ. This is really where the concept of “dying to one’s self” comes from. It means being a gift to Christ because you realize your worth. You are worth so much that everything Christ possesses can be yours. All of reality can be yours, including the Father. The Christian life, then, is far from being pessimistic or self-denial. Rather, it is knowledge of your infinite worth by the very fact that you are known by Christ. Hence, the Psalmist said, “I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works (yes, including me)! My very self you knew” (Ps. 119:14). We know this in the concrete way through our friends, through the community. Even when we are sinners, they are still with us—this is the experience of mercy. Even when we are sinners, they are still with us. This is the experience of the Resurrection; it is the experience of new life, a life filled with companionship. We can die to ourselves, that is, offer ourselves to Christ, because we have experience His Risen Body, the Church.
We recognize that Christ did not fear the crucifixion because he had in mind one thing: the resurrection. In other words, friendship with the Father and the world. He realized that by staying on the path that the Father gave him, he can possess the world. He loses the world if he follows the ways of the world. But by being oriented towards the Resurrection, by desiring the beauty that is friendship (and beauty is the radiation of friendship), he allowed himself to be handed to us. It is not easy, of course. He himself cried the cries we have cried: why have you abandoned me? Yet, we hear the silence of the Father, a sign that He has taken away His wrath. There is life because he opened his arms to the world.