In the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, we are told that we all need discipline. There are no exceptions. Think of a student’s need for learning good study habits, or good reading habits. Think of a musician or an athlete who wants to stay in peak condition.
When Jesus came among us, he took on our fallen human nature, not the completely intact nature of our first parents before the fall. This means that he had to contend with the many confusions and deceptions that distort our clear thinking. Remember his temptations in the desert? This means he had to contend with a human will that was weakened by concupiscence and the allurement of false goods, and the influence of a sinful environment (“with sin that clings so closely”). “He learned obedience through suffering.” So must we.
The only way we grow in virtue and holiness is through exercising the self-discipline that goes into performing good human acts (the virtues), and rejecting bad human acts (the vices). That is what conversions means.
Fr. Roderic and I deal with many men in prison. Most of them are there because they never had a real father involved in their lives during their formative years. They never received the benefit of good guidance, how to gain mastery over their impulses, to learn self-discipline. They never had the close supervision of a loving father.
“My son, my daughter, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises everyone whom he receives.”
The author of Hebrews compares the Christian life to runners in a race. The great saints and martyrs are watching us, and encouraging us to strive mightily for the finish line. “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.” When obstacles come, then deal with them forthrightly and courageously. Think of the people who traveled to Washington D.C. for the March for Life and how exhausted they were when they returned. They did this to give public witness to the sanctity of all human life. They want to confront the culture of death, and change it. Think of the person struggling to overcome an addiction to pornography and masturbation. They are all runners in the race of life to the finish line.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” We need to remember that there are thousands of Christians living today who are persecuted for their faith. John Allen, in his THE GLOBAL WAR ON CHRISTIANS (2016), details the persecution of Christians throughout the world: in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He asserts that the number of Christians killed per year from 2000 to 2010 is 100,000. He gives episode after episode of repression, persecution, torture and killings.
We should never think that virtue comes easy, or that the Christian life is a pushover – something easily attained. Jesus is the pioneer. He marks the path for us, but we must journey on that path. There are great rewards for us at the finish line, but first, we must get there. So we discipline ourselves by accepting every difficulty and cross that cannot be avoided and confront every challenge to our faith.
Think about how we are to prepare ourselves for the challenges that lay in store for us. We are all running the race. The finish line is ahead. Jesus is there, waiting and waving to encourage us.