Wednesday if the Third Week in Ordinary Time
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By Benedict Augustine
“Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as his sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
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.”
In an effort to attract more Catholics, and more general support, many Catholic leaders have relaxed discipline for modern parishioners. They have relaxed obligations for fasting, abstaining from certain foods, and many other penitential activities and mortifications. Catholics complain today of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent when Catholics in the past did this all year round. They also fasted on many more days and performed acts of penance that seem impossible for people now.
Additionally, these leaders have softened the Christian message, emphasizing love and forgiveness while deemphasizing repentance and personal sacrifice. No one should be surprised that out of thethrongs of Catholics receiving communion each week, only a trickle make a habit of going to confession regularly; nor should anyone wonder at the diminishing number of religious vocations which require a whole life of sacrifice.
While this pastoral approach wins popularity—just consider the millions in the Philippines who come to hear Pope Francis speak—it does not win true disciples. The media may lavish their praise, and outsiders might nod with approval, but the faithful find nothing in this. Relaxing the standards of the Church, lightening the cross, only validates the lukewarm Catholics, those who want to have their communion wafer and eat it too. In most cases, they do not change for the Church; they wait for the Church to change for them, truth being relative in any case.
As one can easily imagine, such calls for “mercy”will quickly turn into findings ways to enable essentially sinful behavior. Never minding that the word, disciple, derives from the word “discipline,” all too many Catholics, clergy and laity alike, look for easy ways out of the Christian life. Unfortunately for them, there is only one way: the way of the cross. Removing the sacrifice made on the cross, removing a disciple’s need for the cross, effectively removes the hope of salvation.
God hopes to turn his creation into His children. He begot Jesus so that He could adopt His Son’sdisciples. Unfortunately, in a culture that has torn family life in shreds with divorce, abortion, and rampant promiscuity, understanding the discipline that accompanies good parenting carries less and less meaning. What does it mean to be a child of God? What does it mean for a father to discipline his child? What does it mean to be “trained by it? If the Church, and everyone else with an opinion, have allpreached that love means tolerating and forgiving bad behavior, general mediocrity, and vanity, a father’s discipline seems quite unfair. Neither the priest, nor parent, nor God Himself should try to correct the sinner; rather, they should accept him and coexist—or something like that.
The consequences of ignoring spiritual discipline will manifest themselves quickly. Parents who spoil their children and forego every opportunity to teach them will soon have terrible children who ironically feel unloved and ignored, and who eventually fall prey to every bad influence. A church that spoils her children will have the same problem: they will soon have a disenchanted laity prone to apostasy, heresy, and every hedonistic impulse. Many ex-Catholics and lukewarm Catholics today champion the causes ofcontraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, and socialism. Lacking the moral and spiritual upbringing that comes from discipline, they seek political and economic solutions to such moral and spiritual problems. They think relaxing discipline and indulging will solve the problems of the world because that is how they were taught themselves.
In light of this, Catholics should rediscover the value of discipline. The writer of Hebrews states it beautifully when he says discipline brings “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” This verse expresses two deep truths: discipline encourages an atmosphere of peace, andit bears the fruit of righteousness. These are the goods that people desire in their faith, not feckless forgiveness and meaningless mercy. People of good will want to become better, and they convert for this reason. They fall away or refrain from joining a church when they stay the same or become worse.
Discipline does not necessarily mean adopting a harsh unloving tone and practice; rather, it means being even more loving. People respond to the priest who warns them about Hell, informs them about their responsibilities, and sincerely urges their reformation in Christ. It means he cares and seeks the spiritual wellbeing of his listeners over gaining their approval. Likewise, the congregation should respond to this call instead of immediately taking offense and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the possibility of evil and Hell. As Catholics, they should strive to be good children willing to grow up and do more for their Father. No one gains anything from empty reassurance and passive acceptance.
If the Church would renew this discipline, all Catholics would then endure the trials to come. They will do so and bear the fruit of righteousness later. Only then will the whole world will follow their lead instead continue to lead them astray.