An Encouraging Word — ‘The pain and power of discipline’

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. Hebrews 25:5-7,11-13

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

During the last week of August, I had the privilege of teaching 25 transitional deacons in an intensive spiritual formation program at St. Meinrad Seminary called Our Daily Bread.

It was indeed intense. We met all morning and all afternoon for six days. We covered everything from saving for retirement, to their first Mass plans, to saying goodbye to those who were responsible for helping them through their seminary formation, to how to enter a parish, to developing an ongoing formation program for themselves.

The emphasis was on the personal discipline they will need after ordination that will replace the organized and structured discipline of the seminary.

“Discipline,” according to the writer of the Scripture reading cited above, is about “delayed gratification” or “good things coming to those who wait” or “the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a larger prize in the future.”

Numerous studies have shown the ability to delay gratification is one of the biggest indicators of success through life — be it your ability to manage your resources, choose the right spouse, maintain your weight, becoming skilled at a sport or launching a career.

Those who can resist temptation in pursuit of long-term goals are blessed with an enormous advantage over the rest of the herd. Leonardo da Vinci was right when he said, “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”

The discipline of “delayed gratification” is a spiritual discipline. It’s the internal ability to control external realities. It has to be chosen and developed over the long haul. Anyone who has understood the concept of “delayed gratification” and has tried to practice it, will find it shocking to see so many people today who seem to be powerless over their passions and appetites.

This message is extremely applicable to the young adults who I have the privilege to work with regularly, as well as all of us. It describes one of their biggest challenges. When they were growing up, discipline was imposed on them from the outside. Their parents made sure they did the right thing, whether they wanted to or not!

Now, and over the next several years, they will either freely choose to discipline themselves and delay some gratification, or else they will eventually fall victim to their own lack of discipline, bad choices, thoughtless judgments and lazy decisions. They may recover from a few of their trivial bad choices, but the serious ones could seriously impede them for the rest of their lives.

I have named this column “The Pain and Power of Discipline.” American writer and publisher, Elbert Hubbard may have defined self-discipline best when he said: “Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not!”

By Father J. Ronald Knott

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