Thursday, March 6, 2014

Spiritual Life Dictionary


John the Baptist-A true ascetic

Asceticism is self-discipline in all its forms, particularly those voluntarily undertaken out of love of God and desire for spiritual improvement.
A Catholic Dictionary by Donald Attwater

This is a word that has been on my heart and mind of late.  Not just because we are now in the holy season of Lent, but I have been thinking about this for a number of months. 

One of the means God used for my conversion was reading an old worn copy of  Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, published by Benziger Brothers. As a teenager, I was mesmerized by reading the lives of these people who could choose and endure such radical physical and mental self-denial because they loved God! 

I think too, that I am wondering if there are saints like that today. I guess in a way, I'm wondering if the saints of the "old school" still exist.

It makes me sad when I think of the "short-cuts" the church has put in place over the years to accommodate the increasing distaste for mortification among people.  For instance, when I was growing up, we had to fast from midnight Saturday until after we received Holy Communion on Sunday.  Today, people gripe and complain because they have to deny themselves for one hour before receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord.  Some can't even tolerate that short time frame and consume, candy, gum and mints during Holy Mass!  

The Catholic Dictionary goes on to explain that asceticism is not an end in itself...but a means towards personal sanctification.

So, we don't mortify ourselves just to prove we can do it, to tell others about it, to impress our confessor, to impress God. We mortify ourselves because as St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) teaches us,  prayer and self-indulgence do not go together. How right she is. 

In today's drive-through, immediate self-gratification society, how many give any thought to denying the body some pleasure? The Rev. Adolph Tanquerey, the author of The Spiritual Life, a great classic on prayer and the mystical life states that "Mortification is the enemy of pleasure."We must keep in mind that it is not wrong to take pleasure in eating or drinking, but we are discussing today, asceticism, a willing self-denial to deny the body so that we are not a slave to it. Self-indulgence leads to slothfulness in prayer and in performing good works.

For secular Carmelites, the teaching of St. John of the Cross on prayer and self-denial that is summed up in the term "detachment" is at the heart of our spiritual life. If we are truly seeking union with God, the "spiritual marriage" we have to travel through the bitter valley of detachment of the senses.  But once the soul has a taste of the living God, it quickly learns that no earthly pleasure can match it.

In today's world of social media, I see many religious communities blog and post pictures of events at their monasteries. The Holy Father Benedict the XVI encouraged people to use the Internet for evangelization. However, it takes wisdom and prudence to decide what to post. 

I know there are true ascetics in the world. I know there are monks and nuns and lay people we never hear about on face book or twitter who are denying their bodies food, water and sleep for the sake of the Kingdom and for the conversion of sinners. So don't be fooled if you visit face book and twitter and find someone who is going to sleep on a rock for a week or wear a hair-shirt for a month , or construct a pillar and pray there for 2 weeks and blog about it and post pictures of the events and circumstances of their sacrifice. This is blatant false asceticism.  

I'm praying for the true ascetic, the one who denies himself all sorts of things, in secret, before the Father alone. I'm praying for the true ascetic who is praying for me and my soul.  For I am the poor sinner who hopes to benefit from their self-denial.

To learn more about asceticism according to the Eastern Rite saints visit this website:

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, ocds

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