In the Christian tradition, the term asceticism referred to those active means by which a believer responded to God’s grace. Traditionally, it indicated a variety of disciplines that were used to help build and strengthen one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. It would include everything from mental prayer and study to manual labor and fasting.

Some preliminary things need to be discussed when we talk about asceticism. First, we don’t earn our salvation. Salvation is a free gift from God that is communicated through the grace offered in the sacraments. By our active means, we accept the gift of salvation and in time we learn to deepen our response.

With that in mind, I want to create an updated definition of asceticism which I am going to call, “Training for Holiness.”

Here it is:

Through fasting, vigils, strength training, endurance building, stretching, and mastering of the breath, a believer should build the stamina, discipline, and stillness needed to be available to God and neighbor.

Note the following:

  1. I believe that moderate fasting and penances need to become more mainstream than they have been for the past 40+ years.
  2. While I want to promote exercise and physical conditioning, the goal is not necessarily to have an ideal weight or to be as strong as possible. The goal is simply to engage the body enough so that we are able to be available to God and neighbor. So often, a lack of strength and endurance in the body limits our ability to be of service both emotionally and in terms of energy.
  3. In classical thought, the discipline of the body was tied to the discipline of one’s interior life. I want to update this in light of gains made in physical conditioning.
  4. Stillness indicates that interior harmony in which the emotions and discursive reasoning work in harmony with the Holy Spirit. This concept comes from the Eastern Christians and it should not be reduced to simply pleasant emotions and sensations. In a certain sense, it must be carefully learned and discerned through sound spiritual guidance and regular confession.
  5. Finally… relationship, relationship, relationship… all of this is a means to an end, and that end is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ and with our neighbors.

Your thoughts? Comments? Please share and like and let me know what you think.