In our last Bible study on Hebrews we read from St. Clement of Alexandria that “self-discipline is God’s greatest gift.” That started me thinking on the idea of discipline. It seems to me that, these days, it is mostly an impersonal concept. We discipline ourselves or others in order to conform to a given set of rules or to reach a particular goal.
From a Christian perspective, we cannot forget that the word discipline is directed to the word ‘disciple.’ Indeed, all Christian discipline–whether it be self-discipline, a rule of prayer, a rule of fasting, a penance given by a father confessor–properly understood and practiced is a means of transforming us into disciples of Christ.
St. Clement speaks about the self-discipline aspect: the willing, self-sacrificial offering of ourselves to God, and he speaks of it in very exalted terms. This is no accident. The Church places before us everything that we need for our salvation: the Liturgies and other services, the sacraments, a daily prayer cycle, the Biblical readings, God’s commandments and the teachings regarding a life of righteousness, the examples of the lives of the saints and their writings, the annual cycle of feasts and fasts.
Our participation in each of these is an act of love, but a love that is more than mere emotion. Indeed, in its fullness, love includes a large amount of self-discipline. We know this from our daily relationships. Whether in our families or with our friends, the roses are not always red, the sky is not always blue. Yet we persevere through these times through self-discipline and, because of our perseverance, the roses do get redder, the sky brighter and we are able to savor the fruits of our relationships more deeply.
The same is true for our spiritual life, which is our relationship with God. Prayer does not always come easily to us. Fasting can be frustrating. A Sunday morning in bed can feel very inviting. In these times, it is self-discipline which comes to our rescue and helps us to continue doing what we need for our salvation.
May our Lord always grant us the strength to persevere in our journey towards Him.
With love in the