Dare to Discipline

22 Apr

Christian disciplineI used to listen to a talk radio host who would say, “In the department store of life, sports is, after all, the toy department.” Surely that’s a useful message for us “weekend warriors.”

But let’s take that comment a step further. In the department store of life, is our faith merely a department–and a “boring” one at that, such as housewares or women’s clothing? If so, then what about the rest of the store? Are there parts of our life that our faith doesn’t affect?

I think it’s very easy to compartmentalize our day. If we’re not careful, however, this could lead to our assessing our spiritual development based mostly on religious observance. In other words, we might look to whether we “got in” our Rosary, chaplet, holy hour, or whatever other devotion(s) we set out to do each day, as if these admittedly good things were ends in themselves.

Or we might pride ourselves on our “orthodoxy,” but then check our faith at the door in certain areas of our lives, such as in our business dealings or even our highway driving. Yet deep down we know that religious observance and doctrinal orthodoxy, to be authentic, must inform the totality of our lives.

Our Lord instructed His Apostles to go “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). This call goes in a special way to bishops as the legitimate successors of the Apostles. Yet the call goes out to all of us. And when it comes to the family, parents are, in the words of Pope Pius XI, “vicars of Christ” within the home, the “domestic Church.” The various duties of parents described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2221-31) all point to the vocation of Catholic parents to make disciples of their children. “Disciple” comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means “learner.” But just as being a disciple is more than mere “learning,” making disciples is more than mere “teaching.”

As the Church has emphasized in recent decades, teachers must first and foremost be witnesses. In other words, they must already be disciples themselves. But what are the hallmarks of a disciple, a true follower of Christ? One concise response was given by Our Lord Himself when He said: “Anyone who wishes to be My disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).

What kind of disciples are we raising if we spoil our children, deny them nothing, and soften the daily requirements of Christian living when they seem inconvenient or burdensome? As far as that goes, what kind of disciples are we?

The word “discipline” comes from the same root as disciple. Discipline is not limited to correcting inappropriate behavior. It’s more about instilling virtue, self-control, and a sense of order in our children’s lives as well as our own. As Scripture says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

Discipline is hard work even in the intellectual realm, as sound catechesis requires some memorization. At times it’s easier to give in and let the child do what he or she wants, but such short-sighted solutions in the long run lead to ruin. But we don’t merely discipline–we “disciple” our children as we draw them around Jesus in the Family of God (Catechism, no. 542).

Our children are watching us like hawks. Sure, they watch me when I’m praying with them or explaining Church teaching to them. But they’re also watching to see how I respond to conflict or disappointment, how I treat strangers, how I use “free time,” and where I turn for refreshment and meaning in life. What do they see?

Our children are God’s, not ours. Yet He entrusts these treasures to us for a time. Therefore, making disciples of our children must always be the top priority. We really need to “bring it” when it comes to their religious education, beginning in the home. What excuse could we possible have for doing less?

One Response to “Dare to Discipline”

  1. rwarnell April 22, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Leon, some folk wisdom may be appropriate here.

    As the old timers down in the Ozarks where I grew up used to say, “You can’t give what you ain’t got no more than you can come back from where you ain’t never been before!”

    They also said, “You can’t talk yourself out of what you behaved your way into”.

    I would direct these words to both those inside and outside the clerical collars.

    Have we challenged those in our care to a living, active faith? Do we present “faith” as an intellectual exercise in “believing” propositions, or the action of “faithfulness” to a mission? Do we know the difference? Is following the Way of Jesus looked at as an “app” that we can pick and choose from at the “spiritual store”, or do we experience it as our “operating system”?

    In your previous blog, you quoted St. Robert Bellarmine on the Eucharist. His teaching is doctrinally correct, but is it pastorally sufficient? Does it allow one to remain at the level of devotion, or does it move one to being Christ to the world? Should we also stress even more strongly that the Eucharist is God broken and poured out for the life of the world inviting us to likewise be willing to be broken and poured out for the life of the world?

    Every day I put a crucifix around my neck – one on which Jesus has no hands and no feet. I wear it as a reminder to myself what my mission is for the day to come, and for those who notice it as a wonderful opportunity for me to share with them about “The Way”.

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