Years ago, when Mrs. Wood, our principal, Mr. Lee, our middle-school apologetics teacher, and I were first working together here, a disgruntled parent wrote a memorable note complaining that what was wrong with our school was that it had "too much discipline and godliness."
Even now, years later, thinking about that letter can bring a smile to our faces no matter what the present problem we face. If you had to condense into as few words as possible what we hope to offer kids in our school, "discipline and godliness" would be first among them. We filed that original complaint as an endorsement and continue to draw encouragement from it.
This is what our school offers to kids that is different from what they would receive elsewhere. Thinking about this during Catholic Schools Week, which we just concluded, made me also wonder, what about the rest of us? We are halfway between the start of the new calendar year, with its revelry and call for resolutions, and Ash Wednesday, when revelry gives way to Lent and its call to penance and piety. Is "discipline and godliness" as unappealing to us as it was to that plaintive parent, or does it have a place in our days now?
Is it not clear that the two go together? Closeness with God, friendship with God, being like God - all included in godliness - don't just happen. There is not a time when God is not offering us precisely that. But to enjoy this, it is necessary that we advert - turn toward - the offered treasure. The turning requires an act of the will on our part. Just as often, it also requires a turning away from something else: work, leisure, entertainment, even our emotions of the moment. That is where the discipline comes in.
The discipline can be imposed from outside of us, as it is for kids enrolled in a Catholic school. Such is the discipline of Lent, when the Church calls us to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But even imposed discipline must be taken up freely and become self-discipline in order to bear its best fruit.
This discipline is available to us even now, when there is no external, seasonal call for it. It is also necessary for us even now, today and always, if we are to be fully human, fully ourselves. We need to turn toward God in ways daily and small, as well as ways large and life-changing. He has made it clear that as great the gift He offers us, He will not force it upon us.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are, as the Apostle John reminds us in his first letter. And how will we find joy in that love, if we never make the time to think on it? What good will that love do us, if we do not nourish ourselves with it? And how will that love bring us joy, if we do not confirm our actions, even our desires, to its imperatives? It is the mark of the Christian life that we make time and effort toward all these, by giving a little less time and effort to work, family, exercise, entertainment, and goofing off, even when it is not Lent.
Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord with uprightness, and seek him with sincerity of heart; because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him. (Wisdom 1:1). Make time in your day, and room in your mind, for the mystery of our God. Think of the Lord. And perhaps will come the day when you, too, rejoice to be accused of "too much discipline and godliness."