Friday, February 23, 2007

Food, Sex, Money and Power: On Voluntary Renunciation

One of the more radical aspects of Christian discipleship, especially as expressed in the monastic tradition, is the voluntary renunciation of food and drink, sex, money and power. All these basic elements of human life are the markers by which we find our way into the greater death to self which marks our life as Christian disciples. Specifically, When we refuse to eat something we normally do (as in Lenten fast/ abstinence), we are entering voluntarily into that death.

Today the Church celebrates St Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr. He gave up his own life around A.D. 155 for the Faith. He has a special place in my heart because of his ancient testimony (some of the earliest outside the Bible) to the power of Christ who shapes our human existence. As He did with Polycarp, so Christ bends us from self-focus to focus on God and others.

This is the essence of renunciation. to give up some thing, or all things, that we might better know Christ who gave up all things for us. You can't get more counter cultural than that. And the ancient world understood it.

For Polycarp stood before the Roman magistrate and declared his unwillingness to deny his faith by sacrificing to the gods. "Fourscore and six years have I served Him " declared the Bishop, "and no harm has ever touched me. How could I now curse my King, who saved me?" He was then burned at the stake.

We offer our small voluntary sacrifices today at the same high altar where Polycarp's greater sacrifice was accepted. We offer our Lenten sacrifice to the same One who offered himself on our behalf. Polycarp's prayer at the stake says it all:
"I bless you for counting me worth today to join the martyrs and drink the chalice of your Anointed One,...therefore I praise and bless you through our heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son."

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