I love when word-play accidentally hits upon a truth and makes it fun.
Last night, I attended a priestly ordination in the Diocese of Parramatta. With two of my relatives (my brother, and my cousin) currently seminarians of the Diocese, it was for me an exciting glimpse into the future, at the same time as being a joyous occasion in its own right.
Please pray for the newly ordained Fr. John Paul Escarlan!
Anyway, this is all just setting the scene. My family and I were walking back to the car after the evening and somehow there was a context in our conversation for the word “asceticism” to come up.
My father made a classic, tragic “Dad Joke” and asked: “isn’t that what you mix with oxygen to make a blowtorch work?”
Dad was just trying to be funny, but actually, he was stumbling onto a deep spiritual truth about which mystics have been writing for centuries.
Enter John Cassian. He tells us that asceticism bears fruit in contemplative prayer. When we investigate contemplative prayer, even at a surface level, we come across John of the Cross and his famous poem The Living Flame of Love. We encounter Therese of Lisieux’s triumphant discovery of her love-vocation as she prays
O Luminous Beacon of Love! I know how to reach you, I have found the secret of possessing your flame…Yes, in order that Love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that it lower itself, and that it lower itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire.
~ Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul
Far from being monopolized by the Carmelites, we see it in St. Catherine of Siena’s injunction to be what we should be so that we set the world on fire. We see it in Bernard of Clairvaux’s fourfold breakdown of love.
We read a very striking account of Blaise Pascal’s “night of fire” where he was gifted with an experience of contemplative prayer of which he wrote and sewed in to the lining of his coat so that he could carry that experience with him always.
Just as acetylene and oxygen fuel the fire produced by a blowtorch, so asceticism nourished by the oxygen of the Sacraments and the Word of God produce the Living Flame of God’s Love in our lives.
Nice work, Dad 🙂