To achieve harmony with God, with our neighbor, and with ourselves, we all need to educate our interior life through a consistent pattern of prayer, discipline, and self-denial. The regiment of asceticism should not be understood as a rejection of created reality, but rather a means of ordering our experience of reality in ways that are healthy and necessary for human flourishing.
Thus asceticism is tied to happiness in that it provides the foundation for a more wholesome and balanced experience of sense pleasure and the enjoyment the world has to offer. In most regards, my ideas are not new in that everything I propose has been an integral part of Christianity from the beginning. Furthermore, it is a vision shared by the major world religions, and thus represents a kind of perennial wisdom.
I think one area that needs to be explored in a more scientific way is the connection between asceticism and health. I would argue, and many sources would agree, that ascetic practices such as fasting are good for the human person on both a biological and psychological level. More study and research on this topic needs to be done.
The three practices of a renewed asceticism are as follows:
By this I mean not merely the participation in services and a regiment of vocal prayer, but the daily practice of meditative prayer.
I think that people who are not impeded by medical conditions should fast on a regular basis. What this translates into in an individual circumstance depends greatly on each person. Of course, this kind of fasting would not be exaggerated or tied to things such as anorexia. People who fast regularly should be aware of maintaining a healthy body weight in addition to a balanced diet.
However, I think that everyone should feel hungry from time to time and willingly embrace that hunger as a form of penance. We talk about fasting from things we do not need, and although this certainly has a place within our spirituality, we should not lose sight of the value of being hungry.
3) Physical Training/ Exercise
In addition to fasting, I think that some kind of physical training should be a part of one’s asceticism. I think this was stressed less in the past because daily life used to involve more physical activity than our contemporary lifestyle. In addition, medical advances have shown that physical exercise helps with aging.
One of the challenges that we might face is that our physical condition can provide obstacles to spending time in prayer and fasting. A stronger body is able to endure more and has the inner resources in order to face challenges with zeal and enthusiasm. One need not exercise often or at considerable lengths. The idea is simply to give the body the resources it needs for flourishing.
In conclusion, asceticism should be a part of the Christian life. Our relationship with the Lord is one that involves us actively seeking to build a life of virtue as we are able and circumstances permit. We may never fast like the Desert Fathers or have the physical abilities of a trained athlete, but this should not prevent us from living a practical asceticism.