Continuing this discourse about the difference between Christian and secular asceticism in which I call the Christian approach "attitude, and the secular approach "asceticism", before speaking about the concrete ways in which we engage with these approaches (morality, daily choices and life-styles), I need to speak more about the essential ingredient, which is defined by this somewhat ambiguous expression "spiritual life".
Attitude or asceticism is the way in which we open ourselves to be formed as persons. We are all spiritual beings and so we are going to be formed by what we open ourselves up to. The Christian attitude is that approach which, having experienced something of the Spiritual life - our relationship with God, in Christ - having in some way received Christ, sets him or herself to grow in friendship with Christ. The Christian attitude is all about the relationship with Christ; following Him and seeking union with Him. Allowing my life to be shaped by who He is. This approach to life is pure gift, pure grace: the transformation of my person through the relationship that I have with Jesus Christ. This, at its heart is "Christian attitude". "Spiritual life" then, for the Christian is an expression which has concrete meaning: my relationship with God in Christ. Christ's presence in my life is the essential ingredient in the Christian life: it is a gift, it gives power, the power of His love to my life, it is my starting point, I do nothing apart from this gift. He is my life! The Christian attitude then, is the way in which I open myself to be formed by Jesus Christ. More on this in a later post.
This transformative presence of Jesus Christ is denied by secular culture, for whom the Christian life is all about what I choose, what I do. The secular view of the Christian life is erroneous and is not something that is worth attempting.
If we look now at secular asceticism in the context of what is essentially formative of it - the spiritual life - we immediately hit a problem: "spirituality". Since secular culture and choice denies God and the Christ that He has sent, "spirituality" does not now mean one's relationship with the Living God. Instead it has come to refer to the formation of human personality or life-style at the level of mind and body. Note the difference between the formation of my "life" (for the Christian), and the formation of my "personality or life-style". The secular asceticism reduces human potential to mere psychology or human feeling.
Secular asceticism places the formation of the person squarely on the shoulders of the individual, and on his or her resourcefulness. It's down to me and to what I can make out of my life. This leads the person ultimately to envisage his or her own life in terms of the human condition, which we know is flawed. "Life-style choices" are in currently in vogue, conditioned by culture, and leaving people wide open to be "de-formed" by whatever is out there.
Again, the pressing need in today's world in the announcement of the Gospel: get to know Christ and let Him take the strain.