Asceticism for Spiritual Warfare
Although the Lord Jesus on the Cross won the definitive victory over Satan’s power over mankind, men can only attain salvation through freely uniting themselves with God by accepting Him as their Savior in His Mystical Body, the Church.
And since Christ brought about man’s salvation through the Cross, He calls for coworkers throughout history who, in solidarity with Him, live with a “crucified love” (St. Ignatius) and thus make up in their flesh “what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for His Body, the Church” (Col 1: 24).
Thus, the Ignatian’s love is necessarily a “crucified love” because the apostles of Christ accomplish their mission in combat with Satan, the corrupt world and the smoldering remnants of concupiscence in themselves and in others that militate against man’s salvation.
Asceticism of A Spiritual Athlete
The asceticism of the Ignatian is inspired by love, urged by love, and ends in love. Its purpose is to mature the love of Christ in his heart. His “no” to his passions through asceticism is urged by the greater “yes” burning within his heart ‒ a “yes” to Christ and to the salvation of souls that requires him to have a warrior’s self-mastery and an athlete’s agility.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (St. Paul, 1 Cor 9: 24-27)
“So be strict with yourself, like a good athlete of God” (St. Ignatius of Antioch)
St. Ignatius Loyola’s Asceticism
St. Ignatius Loyola, although practising bodily mortification himself, did not bind the members of his order to perform any specific corporal penances, leaving it up to each one to choose the type and degree of bodily mortification, without of course damaging health.
To a certain extent he did not need to prescribe them because fasting and other forms of asceticism were an integral part of the Catholic mentality in his epoch. St. Francis Xavier and St. John Francis Regis as missionaries severely restricted their food, largely to rice and bread respectively. St Aloysius Gonzaga, despite his poor health, fasted on bread and water three times a week. As recently as 1952, Father Battista Janssens, General of the Society of Jesus (1946-1964), sent a letter to all Jesuits urging the importance of “continuous mortification” by fasting and other means.
Hence, the Society of Ignatians, while obviously strictly forbidding any mortifications that damage health, will emphasize the need for bodily self-mastery because…we are Catholic!
The Society of Ignatians is keenly aware that in emphasizing the value of asceticism it is following in the tracks of the saints and heroes of Catholicism across the millennia. By keeping these tracks in sight we will be empowered not only to admire these great men and women but also to emulate them.
And we will also have long memories of what has occurred in the Church whenever and wherever asceticism was despised: treacherous betrayals by Churchmen through sins of commission and omission, sins of hypocrisy and cowardice. Where there is no asceticism, there is no mystical life and where there is no mystical life there is pure legalism, conformism and Phariseeism.
Urged by the Urgency of Our Lady at Fatima
Our determination to do so is deepened by the fact that, under God’s providence, the Society is to be born on the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima during which Our Lady called for penance. “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
“Our Lady in person, at Fatima, foreseeing the spiritual apostasy of the XX century, urged once more the need for penance. Penance is nothing other than the rejection of the world’s false words, the struggle against the powers of darkness contending with the angelic powers for the dominion of souls and the continuous mortification of sensuality and pride, rooted in the depths of our being.
“Only by accepting this combat against the world, the demon and the flesh (Eph. 6, 10-12) will we be able to understand the significance of the vision we celebrate the centenary of in a year’s time. The little shepherds at Fatima saw: “at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance,Penance, Penance!’. (Roberto de Mattei, “Penance: requested by Heaven and hated by the world” (http://www.corrispondenzaromana.it/ )