Self-Flagellation: What is Wrong with this Practice?

Blessed Henry Suso

Some Filipino Bishops have made public announcements against the practice of self-flagellation, especially during Holy Week, when the practice is very common in their country.

It seems from the article, that their biggest problem with the practice of self-flagellation is that it  “expresses superstitious beliefs and are usually done out of the need for money and for tourism purposes which is totally wrong.”

As far as self-flagellation done for tourism and money-making, I think everyone would be in agreement that if that were done for those reasons, it would always be wrong.  Again, if self-flagellation were done for superstitious beliefs, I think we all could agree, that would be wrong as well.

However, what if someone was self-flagellating for none of those reasons, but was doing it for a legitimate penitential motive?  Would it be wrong in that case?  How about Blessed Henry Suso?  Or the other great saints throughout the history of the Church.  Were they somehow “sinful” for self-flagellation?  If it was proper for saints in the past to practice self-flagellation, why is it wrong now?

I might add that it has recently been reported that Pope John Paul II practice self-flagellation as well.  I think that obviously, self-flagellation would not be for everyone, and could only be done under strict guidelines from a respected spiritual advisor.  But given those conditions, I believe that if the history of our Church is filled with saints who used this practice to enhance their spiritual life, it cannot be a practice that is no longer “needed” or somehow we have “outgrown”.

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7 responses to “Self-Flagellation: What is Wrong with this Practice?

  1. Not a good thing –

  2. TeresaOfAvilaComfort&Guide

    I agree with the sentiments of the person who posted the original blog.
    I also agree with what the Philippine Bishop has done with regards to publicly expressing his opinion as a shepherd of the Church. What I do not agree with is the lack of balance in his opinion. There is a failure to acknowledge those- whose intention is to be part of a long-standing tradition to reenact in empathy (physically and spiritually) the passion of the Christ.
    As for private self-flagellation, any form of action, self-inflicted or not, is perceived differently by each person.
    Self flagellation may be perceived as self-inflicted suffering and may come in different intensities from excruciating to mild discomfort —
    To flagellate is to whip; scourge; flog; lash.
    One person flagellates to cause pain —another, only for mild discomfort.
    I think slf-flagellation can be wrong for the wrong purpose (i.e. sinful means to a sinful end)—and can be right for the right reasons, as well.
    Personally, myself— why self-inflict suffering when it comes without the asking.

  3. It’s curious in an age full of piercings and tattoos religious self mortification is viewed as strange. However it is, and given the suspicion the church is faced with the last thing we need is a resurgence of hairshirts and flogging. However it is a meritous practice if practiced sensibly and responsibly. I recite the rosary as I ride my bicycle the pain in my legs gives focus to my prayer and my praying gives me strengh to ride further and faster. So many of us go to the gym or workout in some way, I feel it is a better solution to bring prayer into that activity, rather than to add discomfort to private prayer.

  4. From Rosa,

    There is nothing wrong with self-flagellation as practiced by the Filipinos for decades. Those who participate in it are in the belief that their transgressions are diminished by the pain they inflict upon themselves as a sign of their personal “confession” as sinners, unworthy of God’s mercy and love. This is their way of self-penance and the church has traditionally approved of this practice which is now part of the Filipino culture and tradition.

    I personally know of persons who have participated in this tradition; seen them actually hurt themselves with blood oozing off their backs and when they washed themselves in that river at the end of their journey with the other penitents, they did not have wounds to treat nor was there any instant when there was a need for a paramedic or a doctor or nurse to help the penitents recover from their wounds. Some of these people are there to make good their promise to God in exchange for a favor asked through prayers on behalf of a sick family member or friend who had fully recovered or was relieved of some ailment, extreme pain or discomfort.

    Marketing an event, making money of a special occasion as practiced by a specific culture, is part of modern life. However, this reality should not take away the importance of the spiritual belief of those who practice it without expecting reward of the material kind, except that reward they believe would come from the Creator whom they know dispenses mercy and forgiveness and is the true judge of all their actions.

    I believe self-flagellation should continue to be part of the Filipino tradition and culture despite the fact that some groups make money off of it.

  5. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, but we’re Dominicans, we should torture ourselves by reading St.Augustine and Aquinas. Let’s leave the whips and chains to Opus Dei.

    • TeresaOfAvilaComfort&Guide

      Yep….”we’re Dominicans, we should torture ourselves by reading St.Augustine and Aquinas”

      …and let’s pray for those who self-flagellate to get closer to God’s love.

      …and, social justice demands that we blog on to open moral conscience

      …hey, any ideas on the ‘personhood’ posting on this site?

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