718. Does the law of self-preservation require us to provide for our bodily wants?
“Yes, labor is impossible without strength and health.”
719. Are human beings at fault for seeking well-being?
“Well-being is a natural desire. God only prohibits excess, because excess is detrimental to survival. God has not made it a crime to seek well-being, if that well-being is not acquired at another’s expense and if it does not weaken your moral or physical strength.”
720. Are voluntary deprivations, meant to serve as a voluntary atonement, laudable in God’s eyes?
“Do good to others, and you will acquire more merit.”
a) Is any voluntary deprivation laudable?
“Yes, the self-deprivation of useless indulgences, because it weakens the hold that matter has on human beings, and elevates their soul. Resistance to the temptation that solicits excess or indulgence in what is useless is praiseworthy. Equally commendable is cutting back on your necessities so that you have more to give to those in need. If your deprivations are only a vain pretense, they are a derision.”
721. Throughout the course of time and among all populations, there have been those who have lived a life of ascetic mortification. Is an ascetic life ever praiseworthy?
“Ask yourselves to whom such a life is useful, and you will have the answer to your question. If such a life only serves the person who leads it and it prevents that person from doing good, it is a form of selfishness, regardless of the pretext it hides behind. True mortification, according to Christian charity, is to impose self-deprivation and work upon yourself for the benefit of others.”
722. Is there any virtue in abstaining from eating certain foods, as practiced among various religious or ethnic groups?
“Whatever you can eat without harming your health is permitted. Legislators may have prohibited certain foods for a useful purpose and portrayed them as emanating from God to give these regulations greater authority.”
723. Does the consumption of animal flesh by human beings contradict natural law?
“With your physical makeup, flesh nourishes flesh, and without this kind of sustenance human strength declines. The law of self-preservation requires humans to keep up their strength and health to fulfill the law of labor. They should, therefore, eat according to the requirements of their bodies.”
724. Is there any merit in abstaining from any particular kind of food when suffered as a form of penance?
“Yes, if suffered for the sake of others. However, God cannot regard any mortification as laudable if it is not a serious and useful deprivation. This is why we say that those who practice superficial self-deprivation are hypocrites.” (See no. 720)
725. What should we think of the mutilation of the bodies of humans or animals?
“What is the purpose of such a question? Ask yourselves whether something is useful or not. What is useless displeases God, and what is hurtful disappoints the purpose of creation. Rest assured that God only appreciates sentiments that elevate the soul. It is by practicing Divine Law, and not by violating it, that you can shake off your material envelope.”
726. If the suffering of this world elevates us, depending on how we bear it, are we elevated by that which we voluntarily create for ourselves?
“You can only be elevated by natural suffering, because they come from by God. Voluntary suffering is worthless when it is not useful to others. Do you think that those who shorten their lives by superhuman hardships, as practiced by the bonzes, fakirs, and fanatics of various religious groups, advance their progress by doing so? They should spend their time focused on doing good for their fellow human beings. They should clothe the naked, comfort those who cry, work for the disabled, and deprive themselves for the sake of the unfortunate, and then their lives will be useful and pleasing to God. When your experience voluntary suffering for yourself alone, it is selfishness. When you suffer for others, it is charity. These are the commandments of Christ.”
727. Since we should not create voluntary suffering for ourselves that serves no purpose for others, should we protect ourselves from that which we can anticipate or that which threatens us?
“The instinct of self-preservation has been given to all beings to serve as a safeguard against danger and suffering. Chastise your spirit and not your body, mortify your pride, and stifle the selfishness that like a snake devours your heart. By doing this, you will do more for your development than any amount of mortifications, which are no longer appropriate for the time period in which you are living.