By Fr. Roy Cimagala
IT’S A virtue that all of us should cultivate. Mind you, it’s not against progress or creativity. It’s neither anti-freedom nor anti-development. In fact, it’s a requirement for all these values and goals to be achieved.
We have to disabuse ourselves from thinking badly or negatively of this virtue. Austerity is not supposed to be a drag or an impediment in our life. Quite the contrary. It’s what enables us to fly high, to free ourselves from undue limitations and confinements.
This is because austerity, with all its properties of simplicity, humility, sincerity, modesty, meekness, etc., clears our hearts of inappropriate attachments to junky things. It sobers us in situations where we are prone to get intoxicated by new things and the like.
It helps us to keep our senses, to hold our ground and continue to be the master of our life and judgments, when things extraordinary, exciting or controversial assault us.
Austerity helps us to observe the distinction as well as the connection between our being and having, what we are and what we possess, and always gives priority to the former over the latter.
Austerity keeps us sane and realistic. It checks on our emotions, passions and urges, especially when they tend to go overboard. And these days, that’s what usually happens—we are constantly titillated if not directly tempted to do crazy things.
It contributes greatly to the purity and vitality of our heart, making our humanity breathe more freely, as it were, protecting it from the lures of artificiality and deception. It makes us transparent.
We, of course, have to rescue it from the clutches of the rigid and stubborn kind traditionalism or the heartless type of conservatism, because that’s where many people stereotype and freeze it, practically distorting and killing it.
Authentic austerity is flexible. It knows how to combine the old and the new, how to conform and how to innovate, how to flow with the times without getting lost. Its guiding principle is love of God and love of neighbor. It’s not beholden to any consideration of the purely earthly kind.
With the heady and dizzy pace of our development, austerity is what we urgently need these days. In fact, the problems and crises that we are facing now—think of the US financial meltdown—may be traced to the absence of austerity in our life.
Many of us have lost the taste for simple living. We are held captive by the mindless grind of commercialism and consumerism. Many are confused and left helpless not only before outside temptations, but also against the wanton ways of our internal selves.
Austerity puts our heart in the right place, enabling it to recognize the right priority of things, and to focus more on the spiritual values than on the material ones that also need to be given due attention.
That is to say, austerity allows us to detect what truly are the essential things in life. It immediately warns us of the tricks and chicanery of the gimmicks employed in the media to catch our attention.
The training in austerity will involve many things. The most delicate part of this task, as Pope Benedict XVI once said, is to find the proper balance between freedom and discipline.
“Without clear rules in behavior and in life, applied everyday even in the small things,” he said, “one’s character is not formed, and one is left unprepared to face the trials that will not fail to come in the future.”
It’s up to us to come up with these clear, concrete rules to guide us in our relation with things in general. We have to examine our conscience. We have to consult our elders. We have to adapt the attitude of helping one another live this virtue well.
What can immediately come to mind are to be sparing in the use of money, to be discriminating in responding to our likes and desires, to learn how to volunteer acts of service to others, to foster spirit of hard work and fortitude.
And then to be very generous in responding to the needs of others, especially to the poorest of the poor, up to the point of heroic sacrifice on our part.
By teaching us how to truly love, austerity will humanize and Christianize us!