Fringe Benefits of Catholic Life
One of the most important traits we can pass to our children is self-discipline. At a very early age, they need to understand boundaries. There are certain lines we never cross. For youngsters first approaching the age of reason, it starts with warnings not to play with matches, run with scissors, or cross the street. As they mature, they are told not to use drugs, smoke cigarettes, or engage in pre-marital sex. Good parents are deeply involved in the development of their children to ensure these boundaries are engrained in the psyche. Unfortunately, many children grow up without sufficient parental involvement which results in very little opportunity to learn self-discipline.
So many people today are out of control. They make poor choices throughout their lives seeking immediate gratification that is ultimately self-destructive. They over spend, over eat, over indulge, marry for the wrong reasons, and divorce for the wrong reasons. They choose a path that leads them into despair because they lack the discipline to place self-imposed limits on their behavior. They have never learned self-denial.
Catholics who practice the Faith devoutly are a step ahead of everyone else. Obedience and self-sacrifice are essential elements in living the Catholic life. As a child growing up pre-Vatican II, we never ate meat on Fridays. It may have seemed silly to some non-Catholics, but we learned self-discipline from this little penance. From an early age, we never questioned it. We simply did not eat meat on Friday no matter what. It was a line we never crossed or even considered crossing.
While we are no longer bound to refrain from meat, Fridays are still a day of penance. In some ways, imposing our own Friday penance may be even better for learning self-control. Catholic parents need to make Friday penance a requirement for their children. Allow them to choose their own form of self-denial or work of mercy, and make certain they strictly adhere to that discipline each Friday. For many who find this difficult to do, the easiest way may be to continue the practice of not eating meat. Of course, we must always keep the days of fast and abstinence during Lent.
Catholics learn self-discipline through strict obedience to the Commandments of the Church. We attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation without exception. The question is never, “Are we going to Mass?” The only question may be, “Which Mass are we going to attend?” Missing Mass is not an option for consideration. That is another line we never cross.
In studying our Faith, we learn about the importance of covenants, especially the new and everlasting covenant we receive in Jesus. Unlike a contract, a covenant is unbreakable. Applied to our marriages, we come to an understanding of the total commitment we are making to our spouses when we exchange our wedding vows. Divorce is not an option. What God has brought together, no man can put asunder.
Growing up knowing and accepting unbreakable boundaries has great benefit for us in our everyday lives. Self-imposed rules allow us to navigate comfortably through a world wrought with treacherous temptation. Self-discipline builds strong character. It keeps us honest. It keeps us free from the burdens that come with over indulgence. If we can avoid attachment to material things, we never need to worry about excessive debt. If we can avoid over-consumption, we never need to worry about becoming an alcoholic. If we can control our temper, we never need to worry about reacting in anger, or mistreating anyone. If we can control our desires, we never need to worry about being unchaste, unfaithful or even over-weight.
Discipline comes from the word disciple. By following Christ and the Church He established, we learn self-control. Any mortification we experience through the denial of things we desire can be joined to the suffering of Christ for our redemption and for that of others. So when someone complains the Catholic Church has too many rules, consider the fringes benefits. Obedience to the discipline imposed on us by the Church can help us learn self-control if we live our Faith to the fullest. Practicing self-discipline helps us become responsible citizens, always in control of our actions and emotions.