By Father John P. Cush
I remember it like it was yesterday: the day that I received my first and only detention at Cathedral Prep Seminary in Elmhurst, in 1989.
As a high school junior, I was asked to “lend” my French homework to a fellow student and I promptly obliged. Our instructor, upon examination of my homework and that of my “neighbor,” quickly realized something was amiss and I was served a detention! Here was I, the Student Council president and head sacristan, having to stay after school in the classroom of the prefect of students, then-Father (now Monsignor) Sean Ogle. Oh, the shame! The ignominy! I could barely hold my head up high as a Cathedralite! I had let down my classmates, my beloved school, the priests and above all, myself.
A Lesson Learned
I was a bit dramatic back then (I probably still am!), but I really learned my lesson in that 40-minute period in Room 303. I know it wasn’t a major thing, but it was for a 16-year-old. When I was blessed to later teach at Cathedral, I was careful when I gave a detention (From 2004-12, I think I only gave three!)
The epistle we proclaim this Sunday from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us all about discipline: “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? 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.”
Being corrected stinks! It’s awful! It’s embarrassing! No matter what age one is, no matter what state in life a person has, no one enjoys being told that what he or she is doing is wrong! And yet, if we are open, attentive, reasonable, loving and honest, we can and should learn from being disciplined.
Let’s examine the concept of discipline on the natural and the supernatural level, for the natural always leads to our understanding of the Divine life on the supernatural level. On the natural level, we can examine the one who is required to correct, and the one who is corrected.
Firm But Fair
My high school principal at Cathedral Prep was Msgr. Philip Reilly. Years later when I began to teach there, Msgr. Reilly told me that the entire year is over in terms of classroom management by Columbus Day. By October, students know what the teacher expects, and vice versa. If the teacher does not establish himself or herself as firm but fair, then that academic year, more or less, will be lost. It’s hard to reroute the ship in mid-course.
Teachers, parents and employers are required, in justice, to establish codes of discipline. It’s not fun or easy, but if we are to love those who have been entrusted to us, then we must, at times, discipline. It can never be cowardly or cruel, never out of vengeance or annoyance, never out of pride or hurt feelings. If discipline must take place, it has to take place with two things in mind. First, the good of the individual: What message will the one who has committed the offense learn if no action is taken? Little infractions invariably lead to greater ones, and greater harm can come to those who are never corrected especially when they are young.
Second, the good of the greater community: What lesson is transmitted to the greater group when those responsible look the other way and do nothing when an offense has taken place? It often can lead to others emulating that bad example. It can also lead to a lack of morale, and a lack of faith and trust in leadership on the part of the greater community.
This is also true when it comes to fraternal correction. Nothing is as odious as fraternal correction, but it is, at times, necessary. The same rules apply, with the one having to do the fraternal correction always asking himself his intentions and using the actions of the other as a mirror, recognizing that he or she is not perfect either and needs to grow.
If this is true on the natural level, so too is it true on the supernatural level. Like a good teacher, like a gentle father, God takes no joy in correcting us. He does not delight in our infractions. God is full of love and mercy. God’s purest nature, who God is at His essence, is Love. The concrete application of love is mercy, a lesson that Pope Francis has tried to teach in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Following this logic, the correct application of mercy is justice. And justice, because of original sin, has to lovingly be applied to situations in which we are hurting ourselves in sin and participating in situations that are explicitly evil.
Living in Natural Law
Just as God the Father orders all things in the universe according to His eternal law, He has created all things to live in natural law. The Church, as loving Mother, establishes ecclesiastical law for the growth of each member of the Body of Christ and for the well-being of the Church as a whole. The discipline of the Church concerning such things like the sacraments are not meant to be burdensome, but meant to help the People of God grow in holiness, truth, and integrity.
Discipline can be a tough thing, both to receive and to give. However, each of us at points in our lives is called to receive it and give it. Usually, it is for our own good. The discipline of the Lord is always for our good, our ultimate good, namely our salvation. It’s what makes us beloved sons and daughters. May we learn to trust our loving Father in Heaven and our Mother, the Church, in their efforts to discipline us as their children.