Through our baptism, we are all called to a life of intimate union with Christ, a life turned towards the Father and inundated by the Holy Spirit. Action nurtured in contemplation should be the ordinary of life. A life unified in Christ is a life placed under this double movement, fruit of the Spirit: action nourished by contemplation. Continue reading What is the Contemplative Life and Whom is it for?
Traditional Christian spirituality put great emphasis on asceticism and ascetical practices. People were constantly reminded of the need for penance and mortification; their importance was stressed, their practice was recommended and laws were enacted by church authorities making certain penitential exercises obligatory. The severe and to us sometimes rather bizarre forms of penance undertaken by some of the Desert Fathers and some early Irish Christians illustrate this point quite well. In later times and down to quite recently, though the forms of penance adopted were more moderate, the importance attached to ascetical practices remained more or less the same. To such an extent was this the case in fact that the impression was at times given that the Christian life was basically an ascetical or penitential one and for many what was intended to be good news and a life of joy and peace appeared to be and was in danger of becoming an endurance test and a joyless journey to the kingdom of a strict and demanding God.
Today all this is changing in the lives of Christians, in the thought of theologians and in the teaching of the church. It is generally felt today that the understanding and role of asceticism in the Christian life had got somewhat out of focus. In the light of this we want to examine that understanding and that role a little more closely in the hope of arriving at a better appreciation of the ascetical or penitential dimension of our Christian lives.
There are many words in the vocabulary of Christian spirituality that describe the reality we are considering here, e.g., mortification, renunciation, penance, self-denial, asceticism, etc. Though each of them has its own particular shade of meaning, they all have the same basic meaning and hence are generally used interchangeably. I think, however, that the best word to describe the reality in question here is asceticism. This word, fundamentally, means training or exercise in preparation for some task or endeavour, for example, a sports contest. It was introduced into Christianity by St Paul, who transferred it from an athletic context to that of the Christian life, in order to emphasise the self-sacrifice, discipline and self-control involved in living as a dedicated and singleminded Christian (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:7-16; also Hebrews 12:1 ff.) The same basic idea is to be found in Jesus’ reference to the necessity of taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life in order to save it (cf. Mark 8:34 f.).
In this article we will, first of all, discuss asceticism in this broad or extended sense which is to be found in the New Testament. Later, we will consider it in its narrower sense of ascetical exercises or practices. To set the whole discussion in its proper context, however, it is necessary to begin with a brief reflection on the essence of the Christian life.
THE ESSENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
To describe the essence of the Christian life, it suffices to point to the words of Jesus that one should love God and one’s neighbour as fully as one is able. In other words, the Christian life is one of love, so that to be a true follower of Christ, one is called to love others and God with all one’s heart. Now, since living as a Christian is to live a life of love, it is and ought to be a joyful way of life, bringing fulfilment, happiness and peace to the one who lives it here on earth, and, ultimately, eternal life with God in the fulness of love, joy and peace. To be called to live such a life and to share such a destiny is truly ‘good news’ and ‘tidings of great joy for all the people’.
Clearly, it would not be adequate or accurate to characterise this as simply an ascetical or penitential way of life. It is much more and much fuller than that. Yet experience, the New Testament and Christian tradition all tell us that asceticism has its place in Christian living. The question then is, what is that place? Where does asceticism come into our Christian lives? We will now move on to discuss this.
THE ASCETICISM OF DAILY LIVING
The basic thesis being put forward here may be stated briefly as follows: The Christian life is not simply or primarily an ascetical one; rather it is a life of love that of necessity involves and implies an asceticism (using the word in its broad sense), which I call the asceticism of daily living. What follows in this section is an effort to explain this fundamental contention.
Experience tells us that if we are to live the Christian life well by loving God and our neighbours as wholeheartedly as we are able, then inevitably and necessarily we will be involved in a great deal of struggle, self-sacrifice and renunciation. Loving others always contains important elements of self-denial, effort and discipline, though of course it is much more than just these. It will be helpful to spell this out a little more here. To respond wholeheartedly to the many demands of our relationships, our work and our spiritual life will require us to forego not merely evil and selfish pursuits but also many good and wholesome things which we might otherwise be able to have or engage in. It will demand too a great deal of effort, dedication, self-sacrifice and self-control to do well and consistently all we are called to do. In addition, we will have to face difficulties and obstacles from others, from our circumstances, from our limitations and selfish tendencies and from the nature and structure of the human condition itself, as we try to live as Christians should. In other words, there is an asceticism or an ascetical dimension built into the very heart of the Christian life which cannot be avoided as one endeavours to live it. Hence, while the Christian life is more than asceticism, it is still true that asceticism is intrinsic and essential to it. One could perhaps say that the ascetical dimension of life is the reverse side of the coin of Christian love.
Specific examples may help us to understand this better. A married woman with a husband and family, for example, is called to live a life that is basically one of love, joy and peace. But she soon finds that doing so makes many demands on her, e.g., in time and energy, in care and attention; it places many limitations on her and involves her in many sacrifices like staying at home to attend the family’s needs, giving up her job perhaps, using the money available for family purposes rather than personal enjoyment or attractive luxuries, etc. To take a second example, a priest, as he lives his life of love of his neighbours and of God, has the same basic experience of demands, sacrifices and limitations, even if they are often quite different from those of the married person. Similarly with the single person and the man or woman in religious life.
We may further illustrate our basic point by taking a brief look at some of the activities that Christians are called upon to do. Prayer, for example, is not an ascetical or penitential exercise. It is, or at least ought to be, a joyful conversation with one’s loving Father, which, however, is a basic necessity for the Christian and demands effort, self-discipline and perseverance. Loving one’s marriage partner is another activity that is not ascetical. On the contrary, it is, ideally at least, a freely chosen and joyful commitment, made in love, joy and peace. But once again, it too inevitably involves detachment, renunciation and self-control and hence has an ascetical aspect. To take a final example, helping a troubled person is a work of love and usually a very gratifying and enriching experience, but it also requires one to practise the disciplines of concentration, listening, understanding and patience as well as the sacrifice of one’s time and convenience.
More light may be thrown on this whole matter if we turn briefly from considering the Christian way of life to look at the Christian person living that life. A Christian person ought to be, above all else, a loving person, doing his best to care for, share with and bear the burdens of those people who enter his life. This is how he imitates Christ most perfectly. Now, if he is to do this and to keep on doing it, he will of necessity have to make a significant effort, sacrifice his own convenience, wishes and time, deny himself many legitimate and potentially enriching activities and experiences, as he concentrates his whole being on the good of others, his own moral and religious growth and the glory of God. In other words, he will inevitably have to practise a demanding asceticism every day, not one taken on now and again at will but one built into the very heart of his daily existence and hence much more demanding, if at times less attended to and less appreciated.
There can be no doubt, then, that the Christian must be an ascetical or penitential person, but, more importantly and more basically, he must be a loving person. If he is, then it follows that he is practising the asceticism of daily living that is necessarily involved in living a life of love.
Perhaps one could put the main point we have been making in another way and say that being a Christian in any state of life is both a gift and a task, or, more accurately, a gift involving a task. It is a gift or opportunity offered to one by the church and by God to be accepted, appreciated and lived joyfully in love and peace; it is a task or challenge to be undertaken and carried through with single-mindedness, courage and readiness to give of oneself without counting the cost. In biblical terms we might say that the following of Christ is a call to live a life of love, but this by its very nature, requires one to take up his cross daily.
One sometimes hears it said approvingly that X is a very ascetical person, meaning usually that he is very detached from material things and rather sparing in his use of them in his own life. No one would wish to detract from the merit of such a person but, in the light of what has been said earlier, one might wonder whether such a Christian had really got his priorities and emphases fully right and whether it would not be a better and a more Christian thing if he were to try to focus on being a more loving, i.e. a more understanding, concerned, compassionate and wholehearted, person. Such lovingness necessarily involves the asceticism of daily living already discussed and is more fully in line with what Jesus was and what we as his followers should be. Of course being loving and being ascetical are by no means opposed; on the contrary as we have made clear, being loving implies being ascetical. At the same time, however, they are not identical and Christianity clearly gives priority to love.
What we have been describing is the primary and indispensable form of asceticism for the Christian and it is rightly called the asceticism of daily living. However, to speak of a primary form of asceticism implies that there is another form and in what follows we will turn our attention to that.
ASCETICISM VOLUNTARILY ASSUMED
Here we are using the word asceticism in its narrow sense and hence are referring to ascetical practices or exercises which people engage in from time to time, particularly in Lent, e.g. fasting, giving up cigarettes, alcohol, sweets, etc., or taking on something difficult like getting up earlier, saying more prayers, doing more work, etc. These are voluntary mortifications or penances and are a quite familiar element in our Christian lives.
If we ask the precise purpose of these ascetical practices, we may answer as follows. In the first place, they can help a person in some degree to gain self-control and to be truly disciplined. This result does not follow automatically from their use but depends on the proper approach to and use of the penitential exercise in question. Secondly, these exercises can remind one of the need for moderation in the pursuit and use of material things and can help one to achieve that moderation. In other words, they can be a help in inculcating temperance. Thirdly, they can serve as a warning against over-valuing material realities, impressing on the person the relative unimportance of these things e.g. money, property, food and drink, success, power, etc., and that they are only of value in so far as they serve and promote the welfare of human persons. Finally ascetical practices can serve the more positive purpose of promoting growth in virtue by increasing one’s commitment to important Christian values e.g. prayer, work, service of others. The value of these ascetical practices is, then, significant but it must be remembered that, since the purposes they can achieve can be attained by other means, that value is relative, less than essential and dependent on the preferences, needs and circumstances of the individual person.
If we inquire about the place and importance of these ascetical practices in Christian living, it must be answered, firstly, that they are very secondary in comparison to the asceticism of daily living and can in no way be a substitute for it. Rather, their only value is to supplement and promote that more basic asceticism and only in so far as they do that are they to be practised and made use of. Secondly, they are voluntary and undertaken by the free choice of the individual person. Hence it must be said that no single one of them or no combination of them can be classed as necessary or essential for true Christian living in ordinary circumstances. Thirdly, however, they can be helpful to a particular person as he tries to live his Christian life. How helpful they will be will vary from person to person, and to be valuable they will need to be suited to the individual’s temperament, needs and situation in life. Otherwise, they may do more harm than good. In the light of this it is clear that one should choose his ascetical or penitential practices carefully and that the idea of imposing some of the them by general law is open to question. If it is done, it should only be by way of exception and in special cases.
It is important in this context to remember that an ascetical practice is not necessarily good or better than another one just because it is difficult or more uncongenial. What is in view in undertaking these practices is not the passing of an endurance test but the deepening of one’s ability to love through growth in self-control and the proper attitudes to material things. The ascetical practice that assists one most in this task is the one that is best for the person concerned.
Asceticism is an important and necessary element in our Christian living. In its primary and broader sense it is an inevitable accompaniment of following the Christian way of life, what we have called the reverse side of the coin of loving one’s neighbour and God. A subsidiary, optional but sometimes helpful form of asceticism is that of freely chosen penitential practices. These can be of assistance in one’s efforts to grow in Christian love and become a more loving and Christian person.
Daly, G, ‘Prayer & Asceticism’. The Furrow Vol. 29, No. 4 (Apr., 1978), pp. 219-224Continue reading “Asceticism In Christian Living*”
When the monk has learned the secrets of solitude, when be has come to terms with his loneliness, he will find himself able, when obliged to mix with the world, to take with him his own solitude and live within it in recollection. He will have learned, without having consciously acquired a technique, how to keep sheltered his essential self in the midst of distraction. But even so, it would be foolish for him to take risks; solitude can be easily displaced, The monk, like Ruskin’s artist, should be “fit for the best society of men, and keep out of it.” Continue reading Exterior and Interior Solitude
Everyone on the planet should be guaranteed a brighter future —irrespective of who they are or where they are— where we can all thrive within the resources of our one planet. Yet, our politicians, financiers and economists continue to preside over what I can only describe as a deceitful and unethical type of Ponzi scheme with our planet. Surely every single person on this planet is aware that we are consuming more and more natural resources faster than nature is able to replenish; currently we are stealing the Earth’s future resources from our children and their children just so that we can function here and now; we are dipping deeper and deeper into ecological piggy bank without making realistic and sustainable repayments. One day in the future our progeny may have to urgently dip into that piggy bank and find that their progenitor’s stole their future away from them and in effect causing humanity’s ecological account to be declared bankrupt and therefore it is us, today, who will be the cause humanities extinction in the future. Continue reading Laudato Si’ – The Logic (and Illogical) of Ecological Dialectics.
“In the palace, or what should rather be called the refectory, they should eat together. But if you are in need of anything because you are not accustomed to the signs used by other men of religion, quietly and privately you should ask for what you need at table, with all humility and submission. For the apostle said: Manduca panem tuum cum silentio. That is to say: ‘Eat your bread in silence.’ And the psalmist: Posui ori meo custodiam. That is to say: ‘I held my tongue.’ That is, ‘I thought my tongue would fail me.’ That is, ‘I held my tongue so that I should speak no ill.” Templar Rule on Alimentation of Monks Continue reading Templar Nutrition in their Eastern and Western Preceptories
BRIGHT GREEN LIES dismantles the illusion of green technology in a bold and shocking exposé, revealing the lies and fantastical thinking behind the notion that solar, wind, electric cars, or green consumerism will save the planet. Almost every major environmental organization is pushing for so-called renewable energy. Claims are being made about “green” technologies that are frankly untrue. Words like “clean”, “free”, “safe”, and “sustainable” are often thrown around. But solar panels and wind turbines don’t grow on trees. The mass production of these technologies requires increased mining, industrial manufacturing, habitat destruction, massive greenhouse gas emissions, and the creation of toxic waste. So-called renewable energy does not even deliver on its most basic promise of reducing fossil fuel consumption. On a global scale, the energy is stacked on top of what is already being used. Continue reading Bright Green Lies
There is one other aspect of Carthusian life, the monks agree, that cannot be passed without mention. Every monk nourishes a deep practical devotion to the Virgin Mary. Carthusians have clung to the tradition of reciting the “Little Office” of the Virgin before the regular canonical hours. They also feel that Mary guides them through their solitary lives each day. “When I think of what I’d do without the Blessed Mother,” one monk says, and his voice trails off. The three monks sit in silence for a moment, shaking their heads, as if an absurdity has been introduced into the conversation. A Carthusian life unaided by Mary is unthinkable. ” Continue reading The multiple natures of Mary within Western monastic tradition
How to adopt a sustainable lifestyle & Tips to boost your ‘green‘ commitment
Note: All External Links Open in New Windows.
The planet’s resources are being depleted and a respectful and healthy model is urgently needed to ensure the future of the new generations. Leading a sustainable lifestyle is more than achieving responsible consumption, it is about living based on a commitment to the environment and it can be achieved by introducing small actions in our day to day life.
A sustainable lifestyle will preserve the planet for generations to come.
According to data from the United Nations (UN), in the world there are approximately 7,700 million people, and increasing. Each one of us eats, moves and consumes goods and services, and many of us do so in a way that is not environmentally responsible. The question is: does the sustainable action of a few serve any purpose? For most of the international organisations that try to preserve the planet, the answer is yes: “Every gesture counts”, they promote from Greenpeace.
In fact, a study from the University of Michigan in the United States affirms that the norms agreed by a population group guarantee the efficiency of a sustainable life strategy. The key? The reputation of each one serves as positive reinforcement in the others, that is, that a neighbour recycles correctly is an inspiration for the rest. For researchers, encouraging these small actions is as easy as following some advice and doing environmental pedagogy.
WHAT IS A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
In 1986 the World Health Organization (WHO) defined the concept of lifestyle as “a general way of life based on the interaction between living conditions in a broad sense and individual behaviour patterns determined by sociocultural factors and characteristics. personal.”. A year later, the Brundtland Report, produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development, began to align lifestyles with sustainability: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
From then until now, the negative impact of our way of life on the environment has continued to grow. The overexploitation of natural resources, water pollution, soil pollution and deforestation, the loss of biodiversity, among others, have exasperated the environmental problems to be solved during this century. To face these great challenges, actions have been generated aimed at achieving a sustainable lifestyle at a global level that prevents the planet from deteriorating further. The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are good examples. And the youngest, worried about their future, seem to be taking good note.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
Achieving a sustainable lifestyle does not depend exclusively on individual factors, there are also collective and external factors that can promote or hinder the achievement of this objective:
- Individuals : The way we relate on a personal level with the environment in which we live determines our level of awareness of the need to protect the environment.
- Collectives : In some societies the concept of the common good is more ingrained than in others, which tend towards individualism, and this is reflected in customs that affect the environment.
- External : The legislation of each country or region, its geopolitical and economic situation or the degree of innovation, among others, can limit or promote the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle.
TIPS FOR ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
The aforementioned Agenda 2030 is an ambitious plan that seeks to achieve prosperity that is respectful of the planet and its inhabitants. Its 17 Sustainable Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 12, which incorporates measures related to both responsible consumption and production and the sustainable management of natural resources, provide clues on what to do and how to act to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
In any case, the first step is to review our way of life and bet on introducing changes that generate sustainable habits. Next, we show the most relevant ones:
View the Infographic by ibedrola: Tips for leading a sustainable lifestyle [PDF]
In addition to those things related to responsible consumption — from a sustainable use of water to reducing your food waste — the circular economy, energy efficiency and the promotion of renewable energies, sustainable mobility, eco-design or biodegradable clothing, sustainable food, recycling and reducing the consumption of plastics, or environmental education already mentioned in the previous infographic, we also review some of the small actions we should avoid because, although it may not seem like it, they also add to our polluting the planet:
Using aerosol deodorants
Throwing chewing Gum on the ground
Throwing cigarette butts on the ground or on beaches
Flushing disposable wipes down the toilet
Releasing helium balloons into the air
Disposing batteries in your normal household waste bin
USEFUL LINKSContinue reading “Sustainable Lifestyles*”
On the twenty year old Bruno, all these events had had a very profound spiritual effect. Bruno’s devotion to Saint Remi is known to us through a letter he wrote to his old cathedral school friend Raoul le Vert. The letter was written toward the end of Bruno’s life from Calabria where he concludes the letter with the words: “Please send me The Life of Saint Remi, because it is impossible to find a copy where we are.” Continue reading Saint Bruno the Carthusian
Christian Culture: Film Recommandations
On Thursday, September 23, the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina with the premiere by Famiplay of the film “We’ll rise at dawn ~ The strength of friendship”. Saint Pius of Pietrelcina was one of the most beloved and popular Italian saints of the 20th century and whom for half a century had concealed the wounds of the stigmata of Jesus Christ on his hands, feet and side.
The film “We’ll Rise at Dawn” tells the story of 12-year-old Luca Paolucci from San Giovanni Rotondo, and his 13 year old friend Sebastiano of San Marco in Lamis just 2.48 miles from S. Giovanni Rotondo in Southern Italy. These two boys intrigued and united through a strong bond of friendship and faith embark on an amazing journey in search of the man behind the real Padre Pio; a holy man, friar of miracles from southern Italy .
The film takes place in our time.
Luca is a 12 year old boy from San Giovanni Rotondo (south of Italy). He is intelligent, sharp witted and determined. One day, while eating supper at home, after spending the day visiting the church and museum of Padre Pio, he tells his parents about his plan to conduct a research among the people in his town who knew Padre Pio, the older people whom he wanted to interview to gather their testimonies, in order to write a book on the saint of Gargano. Luca has a ten year old sister (Miranda). The family are very close, their father is a scientist, a researcher at Padre Pio Hospital.
Luca goes to see his friend, Sebastiano, in San Marco in Lamis 2.48 miles from S. Giovanni Rotondo, to ask him to team up with him on this initiative. Sebastiano accepts. He is a 13-year-old boy, within easy reach, amiable, a bit of a joker, despite a complex and difficult family situation: his mother is seriously Ill, and his father, an alcoholic often clashes with his son Sebastiano who is an only child.
The two boys begin their investigations by interviewing three characters, (two Capuchin Friars and one old lady) who knew Padre Pio when they were young and who have spoken with him in person, they are the real witnesses to some of his many miracles, his charisms, and extraordinary gifts. The saw Padre Pio’s sufferings first hand and his stigmata wounds like Christ formed in the shape of the Cross.
Here we encounter a new generation of faithful who have discovered Padre Pio, confronting the people who actually knew the saint. These three characters truly knew Padre Pio and fit quite easily into the narrative story of this fiction film.
Between one interview and another, the two boys exchange their impressions, they argue as friends do, and we see amusing interludes and boyish banter, alternating with some more serious and at times very moving moments. There are a sequence of amusing dialogues, for example between Luca and his little sister Miranda, between the two main characters, between the two main characters and their friends, family and some of the towns people.
We then get a glimpse and witness their family lives; A story of the two families. The health of Sebastiano’s mother is deteriorating rapidly. So is his father’s health, due to his alcoholism.
During a fight, Sebastiano is slapped in his face by his father. He meets Luca at Padre Pio’s ancient church where Luca attempts to consoles his friend. On their bikes they pass the plains between San Giovanni Rotondo and Monte Sant’Angelo. When they arrive at a fountain, Luca tells Sebastiano his parents have agreed to let him go with him to Pietralcina.
One day the two boys leave together for Pietrelcina with Sebastiano’s uncle… when… Something happens… and here I have to stop and say no more…
Padre Pio was a saintly capuchin friar from the southern Italian town of Pietrelcina who lived his ministry in San Giovanni Rotondo. He died in 1968, for fifty years he had on his hands, feet and sides the wounds of the stigmata of Jesus Christ. He had extraordinary gifts – he could read the minds and souls of all people who came close to him (their past and their future). He performed numerous and incredible miracles. Today there are tens of thousands of devotees of Padre Pio throughout the world.
The miracles and stigmata of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina are widely known, as well as his profound writings on the meaning of Christian suffering. However, what is less known, are the most relevant aspect of his work: the prophecies that he made throughout his life.
Famiplay, is a cinema platform with Catholic values in audiovisual content, and wished to contribute toward a celebration of Padre Pio life by making his life and works known through the medium of cinema.
To achieve this, “We’ll rise at dawn” is now available on Amazon. Directed by Frenchman Jean-Marie Benjamin, Catholic priest, composer, writer and filmmaker a personal friend of Padre Pio, the film highlights the strength and intensity of friendship, whilst embarking on a wonderful journey to discover the truth about their local saint Padre Pio and his miracles.
I would not hesitate to recommend this film for family viewing of any age. The following links have been provide for you to watch a trailer, read about the production company and to rent or buy the film.Continue reading “We’ll Rise at Dawn ~ The Strength of Friendship.”