This Lent has been particularly difficult for me. I entered into the penitential season with zeal as my Exodus brothers and I brushed off any laxity that had crept into our habits and embraced the disciplined life. As the first week concluded, I found the excitement quickly faded. I was soon warily trudging uphill through the self-imposed disciplines like cold showers, no sweets or alcohol, and no media.
While my connection with my brothers on this Lenten journey certainly provided sparks of energy, I still found myself seeing the disciplines as exterior hindrances. Their imposition felt as if they were intended to snuff out my happiness and they rapidly felt cold and rigid. I knew that there wasn’t anything wrong with the disciplines, as they had led me to true freedom a year ago. What was wrong was my heart.
While searching to find the happiness I felt the disciplines were depriving me of, I cast off some of them and justified my actions quickly because well…my life is just too difficult right now to expect this type of rigid rule following. These times of laxity, with no surprise, didn’t bring peace or joy but frustration and desires left unfulfilled.
After listening to the talk that Ron suggested from Venerable Fulton Sheen, it struck me that the reason that I had struggled mightily during this Lenten journey was because I had divorced the Cross of Christ from the disciplines. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross visibly, truly and startlingly expresses what love looks like. In order to love like that, discipline is simply a component of the training program to become His disciple.
Sheen brought to light the fact that societies like China and Russia are replete with discipline, but it is discipline which is divorced from the Cross of Christ. These regimes put off the aroma of discipline; self-denial and commitment to a common purpose, but they lack the Cross and therefore the result is the destruction of human liberty.
If discipline is not done in reference to Christ’s sacrifice, then it will snuff out our freedom and can take over our personality. Genuine Love, however, is fully revealed through the Cross and gives light to the purpose of discipline. When considering the cost that Christ bore for my salvation on the Cross, then I could begin to place discipline in its proper context, a training tool to love as He loves. On our own, we can’t love that way, regardless of how much discipline we can muster. But with His grace anything is possible. So long as we have the Cross as our point of departure, we can use discipline to build virtue through self-denial and living an ordered life. Therefore, discipline, performed in the right context, can provide fertile soil for the birth of true freedom which enables us to take action and live heroically.
If you find yourself struggling to implement discipline in your life, consider that it may be the result of separating the Cross from the efforts which you are trying to establish. Be not discouraged, but look to the man hanging on the Cross and ask Him to show you what love means first. Discipline will necessarily be a part of the journey towards freedom, but we must always recall that the radical love of Christ for you, by name, is what illuminates the path to liberty.
“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)