We have seen how Christian attitude – that interior engagement with grace in the person – takes place through an encounter with Christ and, in that encounter, an openness to Him. Christ changes the person, leading him or her from being situated in his or her own life, to being established in a relationship with Him. Christian attitude is a radical reorientation of the person away from living upon the basis of ‘self’ to living the life of grace, a life in which Christ has become the experience of life itself.
We need our subjectivity, our interiority, to come alive so that we can live as human beings; alive in all our faculties and able to receive, respond, relate. In order for this to happen we need a source of life, one which we cannot give to ourselves. Human interiority is brought into being not by self-resourcefulness, but by the mystery of grace.
Human interiority when closed to the mystery of grace remains susceptible, vulnerable, to the inclinations of fallen human nature. Human interiority when it encounters Christ becomes vulnerable to grace, which is at the same time both a good thing and a difficulty. It is good because human beings are set up to receive the gift; it is in our nature to be vulnerable, and before Christ that vulnerability is now the very stepping stone to the fullness of human life. But vulnerability is also a difficulty because it is an experience of fragility and weakness. (This is why trust lies at the heart of all relationships; growth in trust leads to the flourishing of relationship.)
A moment or period of vulnerability is experienced when human interiority encounters the person of Jesus Christ. However, this is in fact a healing of the person and a movement, within the person impelling them by love into Christian attitude as he or she freely welcomes grace. We see this taking place in Zaccheaus or in the apostles, in the Gospels. For instance, when Thomas needs to see and feel the wounds of the Risen Christ while the other apostles silently hang back, we are witnessing the hurt of the apostles being carefully tended by Christ; the way they express their vulnerability to Christ allows grace to enter them deeply. Christ leads them to respond to Him in a fully human way (rather than in a merely rationalistic way).
The experience of vulnerability, when it is exposed to Christ, however difficult it is at the time, is the moment in which Christian personality is formed and in which Christian attitude comes into being.
The secular ascetic acts as an obstacle to the person being able to mature in Christ. Secular asceticism will insist either on human pride controlling a situation, or on practical ways by which the person can avoid, repress or distract him or herself from interior vulnerability. So, drugs, alcohol, retail therapy and entertainment, amongst others, offer perceived antidotes to situations of guilt, shame, emptiness, failure and loneliness. The ‘remedies’ of secular ascesis actually serve to deaden human interiority and life.