Because asceticism or attitude refers to the way in which we personally engage with grace, or in default of that response, the way in which we embrace a life-style. It represents the way in which our interior life is formed and how it subsequently directs our concrete way of living.
In terms of the Christian life, we speak on the one hand of “the faith”, “the truths of faith”, the doctrine about Christ, the doctrine of Christ and His Church. And on the other hand, we speak about our actual Christian lives – what we do, the way in which we live out that faith.
These are the two expressed elements of Christianity yet there is a third element: that interior place where nature and grace meet, and in which my personal and unrepeatable subjectivity is formed.
Christian attitude looks at how the reality of Christ, the presence of the Father and the gift of the Holy Spirit actually make their encounter with me, and me with them; how I actually engage with grace. This engagement with grace, which takes place in my interior, my subjectivity; my consciousness and my conscience, comes to involve my heart, my mind, my will, so that my whole person, my whole life is involved.
Put it very simplistically: what you see is the Church presenting the Christian faith and then you see me trotting along to Mass on Sundays. But what has taken place within me, that the way in which I live my life, in some way, mirrors that presentation of the Gospel?
Asceticism is an essential element of Christianity – it is the human interface with the Divine, which I am calling in these posts “Christian attitude”. If we don’t have an appreciation of Christian attitude, then the Faith and the way we live it can come to seem disconnected; faith and life can appear as two separate entities. In some way, it is a failure to appreciate Christian attitude that has led many baptised people to live as practical pagans.
Secular asceticism is analogous to Christian attitude, only in this instance the interface is not so much with the Divine, but either with myself, or with those ‘representations of reality’ that I allow to impinge on me. This is the precise dynamic of secularism: the secular mind places the self as the enlightened and enlightening subject.
Secular asceticism is aligned with solipsism, but since secular culture is so strong, its philosophical identity with solipsism is not adverted to.
The human interface in secular asceticism has the same essential structure; that of the human person – that we are set up (by God) to receive, respond and relate, but the secular mind, instead of allowing that human structure to function, instead channels human energy either into self-fixation or into activity which is valued precisely because it provides a stimulus. Secular asceticism is then, aligned with the neurotic component of human life; it represents a deformation or wounding of human subjectivity. Everyone is neurotic, to a degree, but the secular mind inhabits this component of life more unselfconsciously. Christians generally live their neuroses more evidently, as they wrestle against them through the impact which grace has on their lives (eg. St Peter, St Paul, St Mary Magdalene, St Augustine, St Therese, St Teresa Benedicta), revealing the converting and transforming power of the Lord, who enables the person to receive grace, respond to grace, and inhabit the relationship (with Him).
So, to speak about “Christian attitude” is to shed light on the foundations of our Christian lives as we actually live them, and to point us to a fuller embracing of Christ and of the real possibility of our reaching full stature in Him.