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Discipline and Spirituality

Discipline and spirituality seem like strange bedfellows. Our spirituality is our personal relationship with Christ’s Spirit. What does discipline have to do with that relationship? When you think about it, discipline is involved in maintaining and nourishing all our relationships. How much more so in a relationship with Christ’s Spirit who constantly calls us to the best that is in us!

Discipline is the training that corrects, molds or perfects our heart desires, our mental faculties and our character for the living of our relationship with Christ’s Spirit. Its goal is to develop habits or virtues, those stable and lasting dispositions that enable us to act or behave consistently in a certain way.

Discipline is to the spiritual life what training is to the athlete, or practice is to the musician or the dancer. Think of the Cursillo virtues such as God-centeredness, compassion, and dependency on the Spirit as spiritual muscles that we need to develop with training to live our Cursillo spirituality, to grow in holiness. It takes the virtue of discipline to develop all other Cursillo virtues.

The need for discipline arises from our human condition. In his book, The Holy Longing, Father Ronald Rolheiser says that we are born with fire in our bellies, an energy source, that drives us to love, beauty and creativity or to destructiveness. Spirituality, ultimately, is what we do about that energy. That energy drove Mother Theresa to heroic accomplishments and that energy drove the rock star Janis Joplin to death at an early age from an overdose of life. We are dealing with a powerful inner force. There are no options here. We all have to deal with it. Discipline channels our inner energy.

A second aspect of our human condition is that we are faced each day with a decision to follow the way of God-centeredness or the way of Ego-centeredness, the way of loving, compassionate living or the way of alienation. Our spiritual accomplishments are not set in concrete. In fact, when we don’t decide for the positive path, we automatically return to the default position, the way of alienation.

For this fact of life, we need the spiritual discipline of attentiveness. We must be aware of, we must pay attention to the interior landscape of our spirits. What directions are our heart wishes driving us? How healthy are our inner soliloquies, the constant dialogue we conduct with ourselves? How are the exterior landscapes of our lives affecting our interior lives?

A third aspect of our human condition is that the average person has some 60,000 separate thoughts each and every day, according to Psychologist Wayne Dyer. Most of them are a repetition of the previous day’s chatter. He describes the chatter this way: “Our thoughts are a hodgepodge of continuous dialogue about schedules, money worries, sexual fantasies, grocery lists, drapery problems, concerns about the children, vacation plans, on and on.” How much room does that deluge allow for living the spiritual life?

For this fact of life, we need the opposite of the spiritual discipline of attention; we need the virtue of inattention. Inattention means not taking our egos with its plays for sympathy or admiration too seriously, being able to watch one’s compulsive needs wilt under the discipline of inattention

Further, effective discipline always requires an ongoing training program. That is why formation is such an important element in Cursillo spirituality. However, it takes discipline to make formation happen. We need the discipline to manage our time to allow room for spiritual reading and other spiritual exercises. And we need the discipline to plan and manage our own spiritual formation process.