My mind may wander during Mass, I may glance around looking for familiar faces among the congregation, smile when a friend recognizes me, admire Father Brian’s recently purchased vestments, puzzle over the types of flowers arranged in vases around the altar. But when we sit and Father begins the homily, he has my undivided attention. My husband agrees that our pastor has a gift for public speaking.
I’m sorry to say I’ve no idea what the Gospel was about. I was lost in thought attempting to make sense of the previous reading, the Epistle. The woman seemed not to understand what she was reading so she stumbled over the words, saying “disciple” instead of “discipline.” I’m always impressed by these volunteers who must appear to understand the words set in front of them, even though they may not grasp their full meaning. Some may take a few minutes before Mass to familiarize themselves with their task, but it’s not always possible to do so, I’m sure. So while Father was reading the Gospel, I was probably feeling sorry for the previous speaker, and thanking God that I had not been in her shoes. Unlike her, I would have been blushing to my white roots.
My ears perk up when I hear Father speaking “regular” English for it makes comprehending simpler; narratives in the Bible require that I focus. And as I’ve said, my mind is multi-tasking. When Father begins with some personal anecdote everyone seems to straighten up, and tune in to what he’s saying.
Father spoke of his early days as a seminarian, and how difficult it was to learn discipline. He did not relate well with the first person charged with instructing the novices. He did better with the next person, the “student master,” who would explain the reason for leveling discipline upon those in his care. When students at the UofW Newman Center asked Father Brian to join them for a weekend retreat, the ‘student master” denied the request. When Father asked if he might attend the wedding of friends elsewhere, he was again denied. The explanation given for the denials was that he needed to focus on the vocation he had chosen, and the community in which he lived. He needed to learn discipline, understanding that he could not have his way in everything. As Father’s words washed over me, I pondered their meaning for me.
Over breakfast my husband and I discussed the homily. I explained that as Father spoke, I could feel myself turning inward, humbling myself as Catholics of my era are wont to do. Talk about “glass ceilings,” I think Catholicism cornered the market on that centuries before it ever occurred to feminists trying to work their way up the corporate ladder. Throughout the 12 years I was schooled by nuns from Boston, we students were constantly reminded about our need for humility. So I wondered if I was confusing the need for discipline with the need to be humble, as taught by my religion.
I was interested in my husband’s perspective since, having been a seminarian, I assumed he’d had more theology than me. Ever the pragmatist he replied that his theological schooling had not exceeded mine and furthermore, every person needed discipline within himself, that it had nothing to do with religion. He was right.
Without self-discipline, we usurp the rights of others, including other species which share our natural resources. Without self-discipline, personal happiness eludes us because we are never satisfied unless we have more. Without self-discipline, we set ourselves apart from our community. Without self-discipline, we are unable to teach our children the values necessary for their evolution as good citizens.
I think having humility might make it easier to learn self-discipline; but having self-discipline doesn’t guarantee humility. Being a Catholic raised in the 50′s and 60′s, I have to be careful not to mistake being humble with self-reproachment. Catholics of my generation bought into the guilt trip, “hook, line and sinker.” So while I humbly acknowledge my gift for writing, I realize that with it comes the need for discipline, knowing that I have a responsibility to my readers in what I say, and how I say it. I think all writers have that responsibility, though some may not think so.
While I paid no heed to God’s gospel, I think I got Father Brian’s homily. I think I’ll need him as a middle-man to gain entrance to Heaven. Father speaks my language, “regular” English.