I recently received an email from a Methodist pastor who wanted to know what the Jesuits think about the following paragraph in the Spiritual Exercises:
85.3 The third kind of penance is to chastise body, that is, to inflict sensible pain on it. This is done by wearing hairshirts, cords, or iron chains on the body, or by scourging or wounding oneself, and by other kinds of austerities. [translated by Louis J. Puhl, S.J.]
To say that I was taken aback when reading this would be an understatement. If I had ever been conscious of this paragraph, I had completely succeeded in repressing it.
I told the pastor that I couldn’t answer for all Jesuits, just for myself. I said that I thought there was always a danger for us to separate prayer from our physical reality and that, at the proper time and in the right circumstances, I am in favor of fasting and other forms of self-denial, but that I could not support any kind of self-wounding.
I wrote that our understanding of the psychosexual dynamics of self-wounding has made considerable strides since Ignatius wrote that paragraph in the 16th century and that I would no more endorse “wounding oneself” than I would allow an illness to be treated by the medical standards of the 16th century.
All in all, a very unsettling experience.