For some time I’ve been saying I wanted to have T-shirts made that express the great “Strength of the Ascetic” Christianity. Well, my family loved the whole thing so much that one thing led to another and they are even going as far as to produce a line of clothing called “Ascetic Wear”, which is a take-off from the expression “Athletic Wear.”
Here’s what the description reads …
Why Ascetic Wear?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Are you looking to be challenged by a WAY which calls the best version of yourself out of you? Are you tired of the wide-spread “Christian-lite, pew potato” religion so prevalent in the late 20th Century, leading to the spiritual bankruptcy of our day? Are you ready to reject that irrelevant, casual Christianity and reclaim the surrendered ground of sacrificial, cross carryin’ discipleship?
As we entered the new millenium, Pope John Paul the Great called us out of our spiritual malaise and into a more serious striving for holiness: “The Christian life is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications” (Novo Millennio Ineunte).
Asceticism pertains to the development of virtue in one’s life, which leads to perfection and holiness. Asceticism can be traced back to the Greeks who taught that the good life consisted in the development of the heroic virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. It is the understanding that there are human mental and physical inclinations militating against the practice of the virtues. These drives can be controlled by spiritual and bodily discipline otherwise known as asceticism.
Ascetic Wear strives to find those expressions which best emphasize the resolve of those seeking this more serious, committed and ancient way of growing in perfection and holiness.
Every Ascetic Wear T-shirt will have a small, but distinctive Tau Cross patch on the sleeve (shown above). Around the waist of this tau cross is the traditional monk’s cord with the 3 knots recalling the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience …
The Tau Cross, formed by the Greek letter “T” was a favorite of St. Francis of Assisi; it recalls a passage from chapter nine of the Prophet Ezekiel in which the chosen are marked with the sign of a tau on their foreheads. Those who remained faithful were called the remnant of Israel, often the poor and simple people who trusted in God even without understanding the present struggle in their lives.
During the lifetime of St. Francis, Pope Innocent III referred to the passage from Ezekiel as he opened the Fourth Lateran Council; he stated that all who are marked with the sign of the Tau will share in the Passover of Christ.
Saint Francis stretched out his arms and proclaimed to his friars that their religious habit (tunic) was the Tau cross. Not only did the habit reflect the shape of this cross, but it also wrapped each friar in his life-long commitment to become a walking crucifix, the incarnation of a compassionate God.
This makes the Tau Cross a powerful symbol of our submission to God and our desire to pour ourselves out in self-emptying love to our neighbor. Submission, by the world’s standards, is a sign of weakness. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-11).
The Three Knots on the Tau Cross
The three knots on the Tau Cross are meant to resemble the three knots on the monk’s cord which stand for their vows in imitation of Christ: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.
These vows lived in an authentic a manner as possible have a great significance for all people, for each vow gives a specific response to the great temptations of our time. In other words, the human heart tends to be most selfish in the areas of possessions, sexuality and personal freedom. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that these vows have a clear application to everyone who aspires to a life of discipleship.
Poverty: In the face of a materialistic, consumer culture where one’s value is often determined by earning power or the acquisition of wealth, poverty testifies to our dependence upon God as the source of all gifts and our solidarity with one another, especially the poor.
Chastity: Chastity is a commitment to purity and fidelity no matter what your state in life, whether married, single or consecrated. Sex is used in our society for so many purposes, including the selling of products and recreation, and the prevailing message is that one must be sexually active to be fully human … even if that means promiscuity. Chastity reminds us of the deeper meaning of sexuality. A genuine witness of chastity expresses a unique way to love, a way to serve others, and invites others to consider that there is more to life than meets the eye, that our relationship with God is indeed primary.
Obedience: Obedience actually means the practice of listening. It is a commitment to listen to God through the mediation of Sacred Scripture, participating in tried and true sacred traditions and through the teaching of Christ’s Bride, the Church. We choose obedience to indicate a preference for the common good over personal desire. The contemporary definition of freedom is to be able to do whatever one wants to do as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others – freedom from responsibility. Obedience demonstrates that the most perfect form of freedom is that which makes a commitment to another person (divine or human) or a cause.
The first two Ascetic Wear expressions – “Will it” and “Offer it up” – are taken from our rich history, and reflect the sacrificial nature of “Cross Carrying Christianity” …
At the conclusion of the greatest sermon on discipleship ever given – The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus sums up his teaching with these words, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Do you feel like you’ve been sitting on the sidelines of life for far too long? Are you looking to get in the game? In other words, do you want to live life to the fullest with all meaning and purpose? The sister of St. Thomas Aquinas reached this point and turned to her brother with the question: “What should I do to reach sanctity?” One of the greatest intellects of all times turned to his sister and said (in Latin): “Velle,” which simply means, “Will it” or, have a resolve to do it.
Sanctity is the supreme good we can all attain in this life. While we may be hard-wired to desire it, it is – without a doubt – a challenging venture. Therefore, it is impossible to successfully commit ourselves to it without the strong impulse of a will that is determined to attain it at any cost.
St. Teresa of Avila considers it of decisive importance “to have a great and very determined resolve not to stop until one reaches it” without reckoning the difficulties along the way, the criticism of those around us, the lack of health, or the disdain of the world. Therefore, only resolute and energetic souls, with the help of divine grace, will scale the heights of perfection.
Offer it up
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
Also known as redemptive suffering, it is offering sacrifice and suffering on behalf of others, and for the greater glory of God. It is our invitation to participate in the self-emptying love of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. The point of this is not to be a “victim” but to make a joyful offering.
So, how can we “offer up” our sufferings and sacrifices?
Formally, we make a Morning Offering to give to Our Lord that day’s efforts, works, joys, sufferings, intentions, etc.
Informally, we “offer it up” by simply asking God in our own words to use a suffering as it occurs; we often do this for specific intentions (ex., “Use this pain, Lord, for the salvation of my brother…”).
It’s quite a discipline to react to suffering this way! In mental or physical pain? Drop something on your toe? Putting up with a co-worker who is making your life a living Hell? Enduring the constant ache of arthritis? Standing in line at the grocery and hating every minute of it? Spill the milk? Accept these things in peace, and ask God to use them for the good of the Church or for a more specific intention close to your heart.
One may also choose voluntary acts of mortification, which is the act of dying to oneself by killing off the sinful desires of the flesh. These acts can include offering to God small acts, such as: fasting or practicing abstinence when not bound to; denying oneself an ordinary pleasure simply for the sake of God, such as giving up cream or sugar for your coffee for a time; taking on an unpleasant task one isn’t bound to take on; sitting on the hard chair rather than the soft one, etc.
Style and Color of T-shirts
The first run of T-shirts will come in St. Benedict black and Mt. Carmel brown. Look for future T-shirts in St. Francis gray and St. Dominic white. The lettering (font) chosen for the T-shirts recalls the heights of monasticism and mysticism in the medieval era.
T-shirts are in a high quality material and go for $15 each, or 2 for $25.
To order, contact Don Heilman at
(future asceticwear.com website is under construction)