What is Asceticism?
“If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Asceticism means acts of self-denial. Though it is often underemphasized in our time, throughout Church history we see the importance of asceticism in the teachings and lives of the saints.
Asceticism is about saying “no” to lesser things so that we are able to say “yes” when God asks greater things from us. Though we should strive to reject evil in every instance, we should also abstain from good things for periods of time so that we can remain focused on what matters most in our lives.
It’s important to remember that asceticism is a means to something far more important. St. Jerome, in the fourth century, said it perfectly: “Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.”
True perfection is love of God and neighbor, and asceticism leads to that perfection.
Asceticism is not about proving something to yourself, showing that you are strong enough to others, or earning God’s grace. Exodus 90 is not a spiritual marathon or another secular men’s challenge. Exodus 90 is a spiritual exercise crafted for you to become uncommonly free for the love that God has called you to. And these ninety days are just the beginning of a new, more free way of life.
As you will see early and often in the Book of Exodus, the journey to the Promised Land is not a straight shot. And we should not expect our journey over the next ninety days to be one, either.
We are like the Israelites. We sin. We are bound by pharaoh. We grumble against God. We make golden calves. We get lost.
That is to say, there is no such thing as a perfect Exodus.
Some days will go well; others will not. Some ascetic disciplines will be easy, and others will be very hard. Not only is that okay, but that’s how and why Exodus 90 works!
Acts of asceticism break us down in order to open us up to God. They should not lead to a puffed-up chest so much as a bowed-down head in prayer. Through the ascetic way, we are humbled. By denying ourselves, we learn to depend upon God for everything and to ask our brothers for prayerful accountability, support, and encouragement.
The disciplines of Exodus 90 have been crafted intentionally for men of our time, and they have become profoundly fruitful in the lives of more than 100,000 men all over the world over the past ten years. We encourage you to accept them as they are and not to change, modify, or outdo them.
If there’s a discipline you’re not able to do for good reason, simply share that with your anchor and fraternity. If you need to work yourself up into a discipline over the first few days or weeks, it’s perfectly fine to walk before you run. What’s important is that you start, make progress, and strive towards the standards that have been set before you.
Undoubtedly, and like everything in life, committing fully to the journey bears the greatest personal meaning, satisfaction, and fruit in our experience.
More on Asceticism:
As Christians, our plan of life comes from the true model of Jesus Christ. We are not simply called to imitate Jesus but to become one with him so that he truly lives within us. The Christian life is a supernatural life of living the Gospel through prayer, sacrifice, and communal life. Read more
We are designed for greatness. As men we are built to undertake hard things for the sake of others, fighting and protecting. In so many ways this God-given impulse has been dumbed down in our culture. We too often turn to virtual outlets for manhood that corrupt our instincts rather than fulfilling them. Read more
Faced with the prospect of cold showers and so many disciplines, some people ask: Is Exodus 90 Pelagian? Is it a works-based exercise that just asks men “to do” a lot of things in order to be holy? To answer this question, we might ask another question: What is Pelagniansim to begin with? Read more