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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Discipline of the Christian Life

The discipline of the Christian life, the discipline of obedience to the Lord, is filled with blessings, fruitfulness, gifts and deepest meaning. Pandemics, social upheaval, natural disasters, calamities and rumors of war do not excuse us the mission to share the Gospel of Christ but instead provide new occasions and opportunity to reveal the wisdom the Christian discipline commends. For the sake of the Church and the world, we need to make a new beginning in our faith. It is time to examine our hearts and renew the practices of our faith, taking them up with greater boldness and resolve.

This task even imposes on us a certain love and dedication to those whom Christ has given authority over us even when they seem to have fallen short of their responsibilities. If we find in our hearts a certain resentment towards those who disappointed us in the Church, we must remind ourselves that it is never enough to condemn the apostles who abandoned, denied and betrayed the Lord. Indeed, how could these mysteries of our brokenness before God not be present now when they were present in the very shadow of the Cross? Mary who stood with her Son when He faced that antithesis of all that was promised did not disdain the company of his disciples in their weakness but stood with them in their midst, praying and fasting with them in the Upper Room after the Resurrection and into Pentecost. Thus, against those who believe that prayer and fasting are optional or a threat to psychological health, we are bound to fast and pray out of love and concern for the shepherds whom Christ has placed over us, especially when we see their weakness and inadequacies. Only then can the obedience that we owe Christ Jesus be rendered in a way that gives Him glory.

Nor is stoking fear and judging the sincerity of our neighbor's faith acceptable to the Savior of the World. This does not mean silence in the face of injustice or evil. Instead, the Lord expects great courage and the willingness to take a stand come what come may. We do this to save souls from the fires of hell—fires that often rage even in this world. And so often those we love are consumed in addictions, greed, cowardice, resentment, and self-hatred in ways that not only threaten their own dignity but also hurt everyone around them. When such hellfire is manifest in human affairs, Christ has authorized us to speak the truth with love. Such speech suffers being misunderstood, rejected and hated. But love endures all things and the discipline of the Christian life supports this endurance.

We must not allow an exaggerated pre-occupation with self-preservation and psychological health to distract us from a more meaningful life - a life given over to love, by love, and for love. Praying, fasting, keeping vigil through the night, reading the Scripture, doing penance, daily mass, and frequent confession - I do not know a saint who did not embrace these practices. This is not self-destructive behavior but instead a pathway to true love of self. For these practices orient us toward giving ourselves in love to God and neighbor. They free us from self-indulgence and self-occupation. I have found this especially true with praying the Rosary and the Psalter. If done right, they order our hearts to greater and more noble things - truths that lift us up above ourselves rather than drown us in self-concern.

Extended prayer and frequent fasting protect us against bitterness, resentment and vengeance. I notice that these can bring out some irritability in me but this becomes the very stuff of humility if I let it. I cannot speak to any exalted state of consciousness in this. Instead, confession and penance become a school of humble acceptance of my weakness and of finding the courage of Christ when my own strength has failed. By putting us in touch with our own weakness and need for God, the struggles we confront in prayer and fasting dispose us to forgive, to have compassion, and to seek forgiveness. Filled with compassion, we learn to pray for our enemies rather than call down hell-fire on them. We find the courage to listen to the heart of our neighbor, especially if they are children or parents. We more readily recognize our own tendency to pre-judge as driven by our own shame, inability to take responsibility for our own actions, and our need to self-justify. As did our Crucified God, we must bear with one another patiently and persevere in love, even when with this means humbling ourselves unto death. Preserving true peace with one another requires implicating ourselves in one another's plight, even at our own expense.

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