The word “asceticism” can be interchanged with the word “attitude”; the meaning is the same but it doesn’t have the overtones of religiosity. In fact, what I will endeavour to do from now on is to speak of the “secular ascetic” and the “Christian attitude”. This is entirely congruent with the meaning of the word “ascetic”; one who is severely abstinent. Secular asceticism is the endeavour to separate oneself from God, evaluating everything from the perspective of self, and acting as the one who is enlightened and who enlightens. In contrast, the Christian attitude seeks to allow God’s love to enter into us and transform us, to be enlightened by God.
The secular ascetic seeks to be free, to be independent, to be in control – you must be in control! To do this is to possess true understanding, real enlightenment. The individual who is free from all imposition, social, cultural, and religious, so long as he or she doesn’t cause public disorder, has become truly themselves. (Note how the secular attitude is deeply infused with Gnosticism.)
When this attitude enters the Christian person, it makes us become Pelagian: ‘faith’ (my life) becomes a human project, I don’t really need Christ. The secular ascetic has today entered into Christ’s people. We see this in the way that we too begin to evaluate the worthiness or unworthiness of the Christian life as though it is just one way of life among many. For according to secularism, Christianity is merely one religion among many, just another way in which human beings can choose to seek a better way of living – as though every individual, in his or her self-enlightened freedom should be able to do just that. (Only, how silly to choose this particular, rule-bound, way of life.)
Yet, being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, but is the result of an encounter with Christ. Being Christian is not about what I do, but is about being joined to a person and being transformed by Him. Christianity is not another way of seeking a better life; it is being given a life!
The Christian attitude seeks to be free of self-fixation, and to engage with Christ so that the reality of His power becomes a lived experience. This is knowledge – receiving His friendship, His power, His love. The Christian attitude doesn’t seek to be in control, but to be converted, changed, transformed; the Christian attitude seeks enlightenment from the one person who is able to give light. Openness, rather than control. Relationship and commitment, rather than independence. Surrender to God, rather than mere choice. This is what marks the Christian attitude, and how different the reality of the Christian life is from the way in which secularism portrays it.
The Holy Spirit was given to humanity so as to get humanity accustomed to Christ, so that we could be united to Christ. The secular ascetic is attempting precisely the opposite; to work as hard as he or she can to close him or herself to Christ. The true human attitude is that which the Holy Father will show us and lead us to be formed in.
"How beautiful on the mountains … "