The Integritas program gathered for its penultimate seminar last night, on "Paths to Holiness." In anticipation of our upcoming retreat to the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani, we read selections from Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain and New Seeds of Contemplation. We also read some of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, and excerpts from G.K. Chesterton's lives of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi. Prof. David Fagerberg of the Theology Department led the discussion, which focused on asceticism. He made a distinction between monastic asceticism, which is taken on as a specific vocation through vows, and liturgical asceticism, to which all Christians are called by virtue of their baptism. The lives of a contemplative monk and a young mother might look very different, but both equally require the practice of asceticism. 'Asceticism' comes from the Greek word askesis, which is a bodily activity of discipline and training that also affects the mind. Prof. Fagerberg explained that there are many paths to holiness, but all of them involve asceticism, training our souls to love God above all else, by disciplining our disordered passions and appetites. He emphasized that nothing in the created world is inherently bad, but through our fallen human nature we routinely abuse good things, misusing them and putting them to bad purposes. It takes discipline and self-control to use the goods of creation appropriately.
One student made a connection between liturgical asceticism and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching that we discussed in earlier seminars. By controlling our desires and refraining from excessive consumption, there will be enough resources available for all in need. Also, just as all are called to practice asceticism by virtue of their baptism, all are called to personally live according to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
We look forward to our retreat to Gethsemani April 13-15.