Bishop's Column

Develop Habits of Discipline, Displace Patterns of Sin

The great English convert of the 19th century, Blessed John Henry Newman, became a disciple of Jesus Christ and an evangelical Christian, at the age of 15. Newman was a serious intellectual, but also a man of deep emotion. Newman had a rich and poetic interior life, growing up during the great "Romantic" period of English poetry. Because of this, Newman wrote beautiful Christian poetry and prose, providing deep insights into the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Newman’s poetic soul moved him to know Jesus Christ and, ultimately, to fall in love with Christ and his Catholic Church.

But although Newman’s poetic soul was a source of great love for Jesus Christ, my spiritual patron also knew that the emotions of faith can be dangerous — that relying on our feelings of religious conviction can inhibit our ability to commit to the challenge of Christian discipleship. In 1843, Newman wrote that "nothing is more difficult than to be disciplined and regular in our religion. It is very easy to be religious by fits and starts, and to keep up our feelings by artificial stimulants; but regularity seems to trammel us, and we become impatient."

The regularity and discipline of religious practice—consistency in prayer and true sacramental living —is the key to a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. It is also, for most of us, an incredibly difficult challenge.

The season of Lent, which we begin next week, is a reminder of the difficulty of consistency in the Christian life. It is also an opportunity to grow in habits of discipline and regularity in prayer—habits which allow us the freedom to love God and our neighbor, with the love of Jesus Christ.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that all Catholics should spend Lent "rekindling faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives."

We rekindle our faith through prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving. We encounter Christ, as Newman recognized, through discipline and consistency - which brings us out of ourselves and more deeply into the life Christ.

Many of us will spend time over the next few days discerning the ways we will observe Lent. Some will consider sacrificing a special dessert, or a television show or time on Facebook. All of these disciplines are worth pursuing. But Lent will help us to grow in faith if we use it to develop in habits of discipline in our lives of prayer, displacing the patterns of sin and laziness to which we so easily fall prey.

The best way to begin our Lent is by committing to a regular schedule of prayer and sacramental life. We should all, without exception, commit to making a deep and heartfelt confession of our sins during this season of Lent, particularly if it has been a while since our last confession. We should remember that the sacrament of penance strengthens us in our weakness through an extraordinary encounter with the mercy of God.

We can, and should, commit to reading the Scripture or the Catechism with our families each day. We can commit to spending time in Eucharistic adoration, or to reciting the rosary. We can commit to attending Holy Mass with greater frequency. If we usually attend Mass on Sundays only, we can find one or two days each week in which to worship at daily Mass.

Developing habits of discipline in prayer is not easy, but it is important. We should also share our Lenten intentions with our families, and hold one another accountable to our commitments. We should support one another in our lives of prayer.

Lent culminates in the Sacred Triduum, during which we enter, mystically, into the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is a preparation for that sacred time. During this special Year of Faith, let us make this Lent a preparation for the day of Easter, and for a lifetime of prayerful relationship with Jesus Christ, borne not only from our feelings, but from our habits, our discipline, and our virtue.

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