8.21.22 21st S.: Discipline

Today’s homily is for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 21, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

While in college, I wrote an unpopular essay titled, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” That saying comes from the Book of Proverbs 13:25, “Whoever spares the rod hates the child, but whoever loves will apply discipline.” Parents and children would do well to read the Book of Proverbs daily–there are some real gems in there. Gems that our parents and grandparents were well-acquainted with, but, sadly, have been lost on our generation–the effects of which are nowadays quite visible.

As you know I went to Humboldt State University, and there, what was elevated above discipline, obedience, and long suffering was personal freedom, pursuit of one’s own interests, and hedonism—the pursuit of pleasure and self indulgence above all else. Of course, hedonism can be found well outside of Humboldt as well. When our God is pleasure; when our desire is for the easy path, and a comfortable life, we live dangerously close to present day failures and eternal death. Author and speaker, Jim Rohn, said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” He says, “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.”

Said in a different way, “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,” and that is from our reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews. Our culture has made discipline equal to abuse, which, of course, we must avoid. But discipline is not the same as abuse. Discipline is that which helps us transcend our natural human inclination to slothfulness and gluttony. Discipline is what makes us get out of bed early to work out, or sit in silence and pray, to read a book or go to work before the sun breaks the horizon. As a Marine we used to say that the mission of the Marines is to instill the discipline necessary to cause a man to stand and fight when every natural instinct would tell him to turn and run. We are free today because courageous men and women had the discipline to rise before dawn, suffer greatly, stand, and fight. And if we wish to remain free—to accomplish any great thing in our life, we need discipline. As Jose Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola, said, “There is no magic wand that can resolve our problems. The solution rests with our work and discipline.”

Is it any wonder that so few people will be saved? Jesus tells his disciples, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Will we be among those strong enough to enter through the narrow gate, whose feet seek the more difficult narrow path that leads to salvation? Broad and easy is the road to failed hopes and dreams–far more difficult the path to life–and that’s why discipline matters. Hebrews admonishes us to “strengthen our drooping hands and our weak knees…for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” 

We would do well to remember that diamonds are born out of heat and pressure, gold is purified by fire, and steel is transformed into the sword through the forgers hammer and fire–and we too must be purified, molded, and transformed. We must submit to the discomfort of transformation, and be willing to submit to both internal and external discipline if we are to find value, passion, and purpose in this life and for life eternal. One of my favorite quotes about the fall of the Roman empire is from Edward Gibbon, “In the end, more than freedom, the Athenians wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.” Discipline does not equal abuse, discipline equals freedom. I think we could all use more discipline in our life–let’s not wait.

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