Sunday, August 25, 2013

HOMILY 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C St Austin August 25, 2013

all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,  So observes our second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews.  And I tend to agree.
          So let’s talk about discipline   How were you disciplined by your parents, or those who raised you?   Was it too much?   Was it too little?  Was it ‘just right’?  
          Do you think you do a good job of disciplining your own children?   Are you too strict or too lax? 
          Do you do a good job of disciplining your own self?   Are you too hard on yourself and need to ease up some?  Or are you more like me,……. skimping a bit on discipline? 
          Discipline is often difficult to get right.  You can sin against discipline by excess and being too rigid, thereby stifling growth, development, and natural curiosity and even killing someone’s spirit.  Or you can sin by defect with too little discipline, leading to lack of self control, impulse issues, inability to stay with a project and even inability to commit one’s self to a group or to another. 
          Learning how to discipline correctly is not easy.  It is, I believe, more art than science.  As the oldest of six children I know that what worked for me in terms of discipline would not always work for my brothers or my sisters.  Some children need a lot of freedom to explore, to try things out, to discover who they are.  A lot of rules will stifle them and stunt their growth as giving human beings.   Other children, with a different type of personality, require clear guidelines, specific rules, published boundaries or they feel lost, overwhelmed by options, insecure and confused.  Different children need different levels of discipline.  At different ages they need different amounts.
          I personally think that the popularity today among some college age students and young adults with pre-Vatican II devotional practices - such as receiving Communion on the tongue, Holy Hours, emphasis on clerical dress and titles, genuflecting in the Communion line, and so on  - stem from a desire to have clear, visible, concrete outward signs of Catholic identity because of some lack of clarity about their faith identity.  This lack of clarity derives from growing up in an atmosphere of faith that was indefinite, cloudy, kind of hap-hazard, generally kind of fuzzy, loose and unclear, amorphous, more about felt and burlap banners than about clear doctrine. 
          I grew up, on the other hand, at a time when it was excruciatingly clear what it meant to be Catholic.  The expectations were specific and well defined, and what was acceptable and especially what was not, was routinely drummed into us.  So the outward markers of identity seem more a distraction.  But I digress. 
          The Letter to the Hebrews today tells us:  You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:   “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;  for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;  God treats you as sons. 
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?”
            For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews the concept of “son” is not about gender – about boys vs. girls - but rather about being the rightful heir.  Today, in our society when fortunately both daughters and sons are able to inherit from their parents, the author would say “daughters and sons” or “children”.  This passage would read: “God treats you as beloved children.  For was child is there whom his or her father does not discipline?”   For the Letter to the Hebrews the point is that the discipline is a sign of love.  A parent who is not truly loving does not bother with discipline because it is hard work and generates resentment (hopefully temporary) in the child.  Most of us are fortunate to be able to look back and see the discipline we received as really an expression of our parents’ love for us.  A parent who abdicates the responsibility of disciplining is too concerned with their own comfort to love their child fully. 
          So for The Letter to the Hebrews the point is that discipline is a sign of parental love.  And since God loves us at least as much as any loving parent, therefore God disciplines us.  And by this discipline we grow.
          Our second reading states:  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.”
            It takes time to see the result, the fruit as St. Paul says, of this discipline.  That is hard.  We want instantaneous results.  It requires trust on our part that God our loving parent knows better than we do what is best for us, and wants more for us than we can even imagine.  Such trust is based on love.
          In the Gospel Jesus warns us: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”   The strength Jesus speaks of is not physical or mental or even personal strength, but strength of FAITH.  To get that strength of Faith takes training and work, just like building physical strength.  God’s discipline makes us stronger in Faith.   We saw an example of that strength of Faith this past week in the school in Atlanta, when Antoinette Tuff talked down a very disturbed man who wanted to hurt school children.  That was strength that came from living Faith.
          When God disciplines us, with loss or disappointment or failure or illness or opposition or injustice or in many other ways, we are called to open ourselves to the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and have trust in God’s love for us.
          Our second reading today urges us:  So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. 
Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”


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