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Why We Pray, Fast, and Give Alms


Christian asceticism never aims at annihilating life in us; on the contrary its purpose is to liberate it.

christallegoryIt does not imply any kind of condemnation of the things which it gives up, but simply an absolute preference for the one thing necessary (Lk 10:42).... [The Christian mortifies himself] always to gain more life.  Even when the moment arrives for him to complete his Eucharist, like the martyrs, by offering his own death joined to that of Jesus, he will do it joyfully because he will do it with resurrection in mind.

What all asceticism aims at is the destruction of the obsessive concentration on self caused by sin.  It aims at letting us be seized, invaded, and carried away by the generosity of God’s life, the life which is love.... It is the conflict between this love and the tendency in all of us which has caused our own flesh, and the world with us, to curve inwards, as it were.  It is this tendency, that is, sin, that brought death into the world and all the pangs leading up to it.  But God only allowed his work to be damaged like this because he knew how to find the remedy.

Asceticism in all its forms has therefore no other purpose but that of leading us to abandon ourselves in everything through faith to the love of God.... It only seems to break us in order to raise us up and open our hearts.... In everything the Christian life will be marked by a continually expanding rhythm, that moves from ever renewed discoveries to ever deeper renunciations.... When in one sense the Christian no longer has anything, in another he has everything.  But as long as he remains on earth, everything must continually be given up again, only to be found once more.  The process must go on until we are ready for the total and definitive abandonment of death, that is, for the fullness of the resurrection.

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bouyersFather Louis Bouyer. "Why We Pray, Fast, and Give Alms" from Christian Initiation (Providence RI: Cluny Media, 2018).

Reprinted by permission of Cluny Media.

The Author

bouyer3Father Louis Bouyer (1913-2004) was a member of the French Oratory and one of the most respected and versatile Catholic scholars and theologians of the twentieth century. A friend of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and a co-founder of the international review Communio, Bouyer was a former Lutheran minister who entered the Catholic Church in 1939. He became a leading figure in the Catholic biblical and liturgical movements of the twentieth century, was an influence on the Second Vatican Council, and became well known for his excellent books on the history of Christian spirituality. Among his many books are: Christian Initiation, Newman, His Life and Spirituality, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, The Word, Church, and Sacraments in Protestantism and Catholicism, The Invisible Father, Christian Mystery, and Women Mystics.

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