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Austerity Is Good For You

June 6, AD2013

\"Julie

Don’t be fooled by the cultural tendency to lead a sedentary, Starbucks-filled life (as much as I love Starbucks), striving towards beach vacations and massages. That’s not what you were made for. To live a happy and holy life, discipline and sacrifice must be cornerstones in your life. Fast to be able to savor the feast better; don\’t get drunk on the old wine so you can taste the new wine (Cf. John 2).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1803 says, “A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” Divine grace doesn’t rule out our own effort and action. It takes hard work to do good, to love God and our neighbor, and to be good stewards of God’s creation (including ourselves). It comes down to forming good habits and virtue, and choosing good concrete actions, even when we fall and fail. We were made for difficulty, struggle and austerity, for only then can we flourish. However, don’t call it austerity.  Call it something more trendy.

Call it minimalism. Who wants clutter in their life? Material clutter in their homes, activity clutter in their schedules or spiritual clutter and worries? There are thousands of books written on simplifying your life and thousands of blog posts on spring cleaning your fridge. Minimalism is freeing, but it is difficult to cut down on material possessions. It’s easier to go shopping and buy things that you don’t really need. There are 21 benefits of minimalism on becoming minimalist.com, including spending less, less stress, ease in cleaning, more freedom, environmental friendliness, being more productive, owning higher quality things, finding things easier, living in a smaller space and displaying what you value most. Call it minimalism, thriftiness or frugality. It’s really poverty, and is one of the three evangelical counsels that all faithful are called to adopt in their lives.

Call it exercise. Regular physical exercise is difficult to commit to. It’s difficult to find the time and the discipline to gain endurance or muscle, but the benefits are well known to everyone. This article on the Wall Street Journal highlights the countless physical and mental benefits of exercise such as boosting the immune system and lowering the risk of depression. Our bodies seem to be biologically tuned for exercise or hard, physical labor (with intervals for rest of course). However, Americans spend 34 hours a week watching TV, which is much easier than having an active lifestyle. In the long run, many things that are “easier” at first turn out to be more difficult later.

Call it slow food. Jamie Oliver once said in his TV show Food Revolution that the British and Americans are really great, creative people, but have gotten too advanced too fast. In doing so, they have forgotten how good and simple it is to get a few ingredients and a few friends around a table for a meal. Buying real food and preparing it for family and friends requires work and patience, but home-cooked food is healthier than fast-food. Socialization is better than eating TV dinners at home alone. Catholics are invited to partake in the meal at least once a week around a very special table. Jesus was definitely one to share meals, quality time and simple ingredients with those that he loved.

Call it moderation. It’s temperance, really. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1809, “Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will\’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.” A popular Youtube video that gets passed around is the “Marshmallow test”, in which there is a correlation between children who are able to resist the temptation of eating a marshmallow and their success later in life. Pure hedonism is practically impossible, for it brings its own consequences. In Christian Tradition, the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways are spiritual exercises that lead to interior order and union with God.

Life is hard, it’s true. So is going for a run around the park. You will feel exhausted and out of breath, but it will get your blood and endorphins flowing and make you feel better and stronger in the long run. All that is good in life takes hard work, physically and spiritually. Our ultimate goal here on earth, union with God and others, is a long and exhausting run around the park. We believe and already foretaste that it is worth it.

© 2013. Julie Rodrigues. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

Filed in: Social Justice

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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  • Howard

    You really, really needed a different headline for this. Maybe “The Art of Thrift”? Any title of the type “Suffering Is Good for You” has an implied catch-22: either the author means, “Suffering is good for YOU, though not for me!” or “I have suffered/am suffering, and everyone should look to me as their model!” My instinctive response is, “A Good Swift Kick in the Backside Would Be Good for You!” And yes, good for me, too, though I would no happier to receive it than you.

  • kcthomas

    Good article. Expecting more on family, sacredness of marriage etc.

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