The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Discipline guides us throughout life

The disciplines of prayer, rest, play and meaning contribute to fulfillment

August 26, 2001, Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What role does discipline play in your life?

2. Do the disciplines of Blessed John XXIII speak to your experience?

3. Why has discipline fallen upon hard times?

For some people, discipline is a "dirty" word. It speaks of inhibition, subordination, restraint - realities that Sigmund Freud was not keen about. But God's word is not afraid to articulate the need for discipline.

Jesus responds to the question of whether or not many will be saved by answering: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." In the Letters to the Hebrews we are told not to disdain the discipline of the Lord and that every loving father (and mother) disciplines their children for their own good. And Isaiah, in speaking of offerings to the Lord knows that discipline underlies this practice.

Blessed John XXIII was a disciple who practiced discipline. In Peter Hebblethwite's biography Pope John XXIII: Shepherd of the Modern World we read: "One of his secrets was that he was orderly. 'Most long-lived people,' writes Desmond Morris, 'have a sense of self-discipline. This does not mean driving the self despotically but 'imposing a pattern on the ordinary events of the day.' Roncalli had his Breviary and his afternoon nap in a chair. He also had the other qualities needed to age well: 'a twinkle in the eye,' a sense of humor and impishness, and something to live for.'" (269)

The disciplines of prayer, rest, play and meaning all contribute to not only living longer but more fruitfully. When we don't take time to communicate with God, tend to our needs, enjoy life and have a cause, things do fall apart.

The writer Madeleine L'Engle also speaks of discipline in regards to the art. "Someone wrote, 'The principal part of faith is patience,' and this applies, too, to art of all disciplines. We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to go out of the way and listen to work, we will not be able to heed it."

The ministry of Jesus, that is, the life of discipleship, is one of work. It is not grounded in how we feel but in the performance of our Christian duty in season and out of season. Discipline does not deny emotions but becomes their governor, not their slave. Without discipline we will go with the flow and wind up over the dam.

A final comment on discipline: "The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult." (Marquise du Deffand) Though we have hyperbole here, the point is well taken. For the marathon runner the distance is something (over 26 miles) and the first step, though important, is not all that difficult. Rather, it is the three months of intense training prior to the big race that gets a runner in shape. Then the distance becomes "nothing," because one has taken so many first steps prior to it.

As disciples of the Lord, the distance to Jerusalem is long. But, if we take it a step at time and live deeply the sacrament of the moment, then we can be assured that this discipline-this graced discipline- will get us home.

In the responsorial psalm we pray: "For steadfast is his kindness toward us, / and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever." Here is supreme discipline, here is supreme grace. We ask for the same steadfastness and endurance in our Christian lives.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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