Self-Discipline – Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019
Why is one person a highly-motivated and disciplined person who projects the sense of a life where every minute counts, and yet another person is undisciplined, unfocused, and haphazard in the daily approach to life’s activities? And then, most of us are somewhere in between.
We know that there are underlying physiological and psychological factors, such that we have our unique approach to life. A notion of self-discipline is behind everything we do in our lives: eating, prayer, physical exercise, activities that become addictions, a balanced schedule, and so on.
When I served as Novice Master, I observed that some of the young men were superb at their use of time that was not scheduled for the group. Others lacked that kind of discipline and needed the motivation that came from outside, from the daily schedule that I set for them. I’m sure that parents notice similar patterns.
Some of us have an interior drive that means that discipline comes from within. In one of his more famous letters, St. Ignatius of Loyola uses the image of a horse and basically says that he would rather rein a person in than spur her on. In other words, he would prefer to caution a person that she is doing too much than having to suggest that maybe you should get off your behind and do something.
The value of discipline is highlighted in today’s selection from the Letter to the Hebrews. “Endure trials for the sake of discipline.” The writer reminds us that God disciplines the ones God loves. God treats us as children who require a healthy amount of discipline. The author of Hebrews urges us to “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.” In a letter to Polycarp, St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “Exercise self-discipline, for you are God’s athlete; the prize is immortality and eternal life.”
The commitment to a focused and intentional way of life requires discipline. Commitment needn’t be blind or unquestioning in its loyalty, but it does require a level of listening to and obeying mentors who have something to pass on from their experience. As we are so often reminded, in our culture it is becoming increasingly difficult to get commitment from people.
I like these words about disciple from Kenneth Russell’s piece on ascetical theology in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. He writes of “the conviction that ordinary Christian living consists in nothing more than walking the rock-strewn roads of the valley, where virtuous human striving and discipline, under the impulse and guidance of God’s grace, brings souls to a perfection.”
This is a level of commitment to a spiritual path, such that I will make sacrifices and push myself toward growth and openness to God’s grace at work in me. I am not speaking of the extraordinary measures that are found in the saints, but the ordinary measures of daily life that we are all called to by the Gospel.