Asceticism is one aspect of spiritual activity that I have very seldom embraced. I do not profess to fully understand how it effects spiritual growth. The disciplining and self-denial of the body historically has been the mark of the pursuit of holiness. Training our wills to fast, abstain, and inflict discomfort on ourselves may get the attention of our wills like the proverbial two-by-four upside the head, but does it synonymously add to the intention of aligning our suffering and discomfort with our love?
I concede that discomfort, adversity, and suffering are great teachers. They do help us to grow spiritually. But I think, for the most part, they easily find us during the course of our lives without having to actively pursue them.
Now, if we don’t feel we’re getting enough adversity, discomfort, or suffering in our lives to grow, then there are ways we can inflict them upon ourselves as a “jump-start.” Personally, I’ve seldom been able to wring anything out of fasting and abstaining other than a growling stomach. But trying to be compassionate and patient with difficult individuals can be far more profitable than enduring the itchy tickle of a hair-shirt – and more ascetic!
If I look at the way You love us, I see a willing acceptance of life and all the joy and pain it brings with it. This, to me, is asceticism. Self-imposed physical discomfort can be an act of love; but, if the key to such acts is pain there is probably enough in our day-to-day lives to afford ample opportunities for interior self-flagellation. I am more of St. Theresa’s persuasion that bearing patiently and compassionately with the little annoyances we constantly encounter is the ideal asceticism. It’s more about self-denial than self-punishment.