Father Dwight Longenecker is upping the ante lately, as you can tell by the number of comments that some of his posts are getting. His latest Dare to Discipline had 17 comments over night.
Here is the first recommendation that he made about self discipline, and it has garnered mostly favourable response, but a little response along the lines of it being possibly too hard, so I wanted to revisit it and ponder it.
1. We're soft and decadent. We give ourselves too much of a break. We're materialistic, self indulgent and too easy to let ourselves off the hook. What we need is some good old fashioned asceticism. Let's look to the desert fathers who, repelled by the decadence of established Roman Christianity, fled to the desert to practice mortification. "These only come out by prayer and fasting..."On the face of it, it does sound a bit over the top. One could think that he is calling us all to head out to the desert for some locusts and honey, and some parching of our throats along the way for good measure. However, I don't think that is what he has in mind, and as he certainly seems to be giving godly wisdom, I don't think it is quite what Jesus has in mind for us either.
He is speaking about prayer and fasting as ways to holiness, something we are all called to. "Be holy, for I am holy." Jesus, above all, knows where we are at individually, and He meets us there, and leads us on the path that will take us individually to the foot of His Cross. We do not start at the foot of the cross, but wind our way there day by day, as He gently calls us on to take up our cross to carry to His.
The day 30 years ago, as I look back to when I knew He called me, as I stood in my kitchen with my wife, and He said only 3 words to me, was the day that I took up my cross for the first time as an adult. It was really just a little tiny sliver, not a real cross at all, at all. He said "Go to Church." That was it. He did not tell me anything about what He wanted from me in the future, just that. We obeyed.
He didn't tell us to join the Church, just to go there. When we joined fully into the worship and Eucharistic celebration a few years later, we did so because we consciously chose to do so. Maybe you have heard him say that to you, or maybe you don't need to hear a voice to know in your heart that it is time to go to a faith community, or move deeper into your own faith and community. If so, that is the start of moving away from the soft, decadent life style that we have become so accustomed to.
I was not suddenly healed of my sinfulness; in fact, I have not been healed of my sinfulness completely to this day, and don't expect it to happen this side of the grave. Some of the worst sinning I have ever done in my life came after that long ago day, but I have learned to feel the weight of my sins, and I have also learned the grace of the sacrament of Reconciliation. For most of the intervening years, I felt ashamed of myself for sinning, trying to hide from it, and beat myself up for it. Of that, Jesus has healed me. Now, I feel deep sorrow for my sins, not shame, because He went to His Cross to take away my shame, and to make me worthy of the Salvation that He died and rose to reveal.
Then there was the day 15 years ago, that I was frustrated with following Him, and when by myself I asked Him what he wanted from me; it was a watershed day/moment. Again, He spoke to me, but like before gave a simple answer. This time, it was one word only, "Everything." In an instant I understood in my heart, though my brain was several years behind. I confess I had not a single clue as to what it would really mean for me.
Jesus does want everything from us, our "joys, works, trials and tribulations" as we can say in the Morning Offering prayer. But, He will take only that which we willingly give to Him. He does not just want our successes, but our failures, because of them he can make true successes, particularly the eternal success of spending it with Him.
Jesus has always accepted me just the way I am, but He, in His infinite wisdom, has always invited me on to more. If I knew then what I know now, I would have run away, because I would not have been able to grasp it. But, now though the cross has grown over the years, for me anyway, it is easy to carry, because He does all the heavy lifting. I only need to say, like Our Gracious Mother Mary did, "Yes."
Over time, now 30 years, I have learned to pray, and to enjoy prayer. I have learned to give from my heart, and I have learned to love in ways I never imagined possible.
But, it is a journey and I hope is only just beginning, as I yearn to draw closer to Him every day.
Jesus wants us to give Him our heart, maybe only a tiny piece today, but given freely. He will take up residence in whatever we give Him.
That is ascetism, the slow process of yielding ourselves to the Pursuer, the Lover of our very soul.