Friday, March 8, 2013

Lent: Assessing Ascesis

Have you ever heard the expression "Practice makes perfect?"

As we continue this look at why we abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent, I hope that it is becoming clear that it is much less about rules and impositions and much more about learning how we can enhance and grow our relationship with God.

Again, these posts are not intended to be all-inclusive, so I hope you'll take time to do some additional research of each of the topics.

So far, we've looked at the connections to (or directions toward) sacrifice, penance, and simplicity

Abstaining from meat is a way to practice ASCETICISM

A discussion about ascesis should begin with the word "freedom". We can and often do have a distorted view of freedom. True freedom, "free will" has been given to us by God. We have the ability to choose to do right or wrong, even to accept or reject the One who gives us the ability to choose.  

Fine, but what does this have to do with not eating meat?

It's true that the Church has put a requirement upon us during Lent. However, as previously stated, it is not intended to impose authority upon us, but to help us to ascend to this higher good, to choose to go beyond requirement and to choose for one's self.

In all of these instances that I have been writing about, we are practicing something, and practice is a good word here. We are practicing something, learning that there is a deeper meaning to what we are doing. We should be recognizing that abstaining from meat is a simple way toward understanding how to direct other things in our lives, other actions, even our very selves toward God. 

Ascesis is self-denial and self-restraint. It calls for the use of free will to choose for one's self to deny one's self or to restrain one's self. The Christian, recognizing that all he is and has is a gift from God and desires to respond to God (the action of faith itself) by offering himself back to God.

Christians have the example given us by God through the life of Jesus who lived, by choice, a life of self-denial. In fact, Jesus demands of anyone who would dare to call himself a follower of Christ to 

"deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." - Matthew 16:24

The cross, the ultimate act of self-denial. 

The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes - Catechism 2015

By practicing an act which directs us toward ascesis, we move to ascesis itself, and thus a strengthened relationship with God.

Practice makes perfect.

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