February 23, 2007

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Discipline is the path to virtue

Sean Gallagher“Michael, it’s time to pick up your toys.”

“But I don’t want to.”

“If you don’t start picking up by the time I count to three, I’ll start taking away the toys.”

“But Daddy!”

“One … two …”

“Oh, all right.”

This kind of interchange between me or my wife and our oldest child, Michael, usually happens several times a day.

Michael has long since reached the age at which he responds to discipline.

But he hasn’t reached the age yet at which the fruits of discipline are readily evident much of the time. (By the way, parents of older children, at what age does that occur?)

Because of Michael’s resistance, it takes some determination on my part and on the part of my wife to stick to the plan of disciplining our son in a loving way. In other words, we have to be disciplined about disciplining.

Yes, there are lots of times when I ask Michael to do something and he responds quickly without uttering a complaint. And when I observe him doing this, I give him praise and, if I remember to do it, say a silent prayer of thanks to God.

But there are other moments when, in response to a request, Michael grits his teeth, runs away or simply goes on about his business as if he never heard the request.

Discipline is never easy, at least at the start. That’s true even for adults. Believe me, I would much rather curl up in my easy chair and read a book while munching on some high-fat chips than go to the gym to exercise.

Discipline is an act of faith. When we forgo those things that we’d rather do and instead do those things that we’d rather avoid, we trust that our God speaking to us in our consciences will lead us to true happiness and, conversely, that following our inclinations is often the path to frustration.

What my wife and I do in leading Michael along the path to a disciplined way of life is not unlike the journey we’re all invited to embark on during Lent.

The threefold Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are intended to build up virtue within our daily lives. They’re habits that we should do all year long, not simply in the 40 days leading up to the Easter Triduum.

But as many past Lenten seasons have shown me, building up these virtues isn’t easy. I’d much rather spend less time in prayer, eat anything I want or not share those things that I hold dear.

Maybe that’s why Lent is a full six weeks long—at least two weeks longer than Advent. God knows it is hard for us to follow his way, and so he gives us extra time.

And maybe that’s why we observe Lent every year. Disciplining my son Michael has given me the chance to look over my own life and realize how much I still need discipline to root out bad habits and build up good ones.

Discipline isn’t just something that parents instill in their children. It’s the lifelong path to virtue and living more fully the life of grace. †

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