A Year with the Saints – 6 March


Mortification of the appetite is the A, B, C of spiritual life. Whoever cannot control himself in this, will hardly be able to conquer temptations more difficult to subdue. Saint Vincent de Paul

This Saint had, by long habit, so mortified his sense of taste that he never gave a sign of being pleased with anything, but took indifferently all that was given him, however insipid or ill-cooked it might be; and so little did he regard what he was eating, that when a couple of raw eggs were once set before him by mistake, he ate them without taking the least notice. He always. seemed to go to the table unwillingly, and only from necessity, eating always with great moderation, and with a view solely to the glory of God; nor did he ever leave the table without having mortified himself in something, either as to quantity or quality. For many years, too, he kept a bitter powder to mix with his food; and he usually ate so little that he frequently fainted from weakness.

The Empress Leonora was remarkable for this virtue. Her usual dinner was of herbs, pulse, and other food of the poor, always the same both in kind and quantity. She had four dishes at dinner, and three at supper, frequently setting aside some of them for no reason except that they pleased her. And if these dishes came to the table covered with pastry or other delicacies used by the rich, they always went back whole and untouched. When she was at the Emperor’s table or at formal banquets, she spent the time in cutting into the smallest bits whatever was placed before her; then when another course was brought, she sent away the first without having tasted it, and went on as before. When she ate apples baked in the ashes, she never peeled them, but ate them with whatever ashes were upon them. On Fridays she lived on bread and water alone, in memory of the Redeemer’s Passion. She bore the most parching thirst on the hottest summer days, without permitting even a sip of water to pass her burning lips. Saint Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, fasted on bread and water about half the year. Saint Francis Xavier waged as constant and lasting war against his appetite, so that he never took food or drink for pleasure, but from pure necessity; nor did he ever take as much as he desired, even of bread. Saint Edmund of Canterbury never ate either meat or fish, but only bread and other common food, and suffered so much from thirst that his lips chapped. The blessed Henry Suso drank nothing for six successive months; and in order to feel thirst more acutely, he ate salt food, and then going to a stream, he bent his head down close to its surface, yet without allowing his lips to touch it. The blessed Joanna of Saint Damien practiced such great austerities in regard to food, that she was entreated by the other nuns to moderate them. But she answered: “I am sorry that I cannot feed this body of mine on straw. I know how much harm liberty does to it, and I thank God, Who has given me this knowledge.” When Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi was seriously ill, extremely weak, and suffering from nausea, if she happened to think of any kind of food which would please her, she considered it a fault to ask for it or allude to it, and carefully abstained from doing so.

The blessed Jacopone, having one day a desire for meat, bought a piece. He hung it up in his room and kept it until it was spoiled; then he had it cooked and ate it with unspeakable disgust. By a long and constant habit of abstinence and mortification, Saint Anselm became unable to perceive the taste of food. It was the same with Saint Bernard, who for that reason drank oil one day instead of wine, without perceiving it at all, and he reached such a point that going to the table seemed to him a kind of torture.

Saint Teresa said that she experienced a similar difficulty in eating; and Saint Isidore suffered from it so excessively that he could not go to the table without tears, and the command of his Superior was needed to force him to take some nourishment.

MLA Citation