Embracing discipline for discipleship

Our daily routines have been altered like never before. We have entered an era with dreams on hold, where decisions have grounded to a halt, and we are eager for direction. When we feel ourselves wasting away, wondering when our lives will begin again, Jesus whispers in our ears, reminding us that we are beginning again, each and every day, on a mission as his disciples.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus announces that: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). These three commands are how we embrace discipline for discipleship.

Deny yourself

We are all experiencing this reality like never before as we are required to place on hold events, activities, fellowship, community and even jobs. We are asked to go without things we once took for granted as being constant. But in this denial of so much, for the sake of the health and safety of our world, we are given an incredible opportunity to remember who we are. It is easy to become defined by the things we do, the places we go or the people we spend our time with, when what truly defines us is our discipleship, which means to be a follower of a great teacher. We are called to be disciples of the greatest teacher of all, and as the Gospel of John tells us, we must decrease so that we can make room for Jesus to work in our lives. With the help of discipline, we can remember, regardless of any circumstance, that he is our identity and hope above all else.

Take up your cross

Again, there is no greater time than now to take up our crosses: crosses of illness, isolation or disappointments. We are asked to shoulder them nonetheless, to carry them with us instead of letting them carry us, control us or, at worst, define us. We are asked to believe that Jesus is still at work and to not let present conditions or limitations keep us from the discipline of building our relationship with him. He is still at work in our laughter with family around the dinner table. He is still at work in the Rosary said in the quiet of our bedrooms. He is at work in the delivery driver dropping food on our front porch or our co-workers and our neighbors across from us in their homes. Accept your cross, because it is far more painful to bear it alone, and Jesus assures us that we are never alone, for he is with us until the end of the age (cf. Mt 28:20).

Follow Christ

Finally, Christ calls us to obedience on the path where he leads. This could very well be the hardest command of the three, but we are called to surrender and to be his sheep — not blind sheep fearfully following the shepherd, but sheep that follow out of love and trust in Jesus and his words, believing that he will provide for their every need and make a way for them.

These three attributes of discipleship are not at all easy to live out. They require great discipline, a daily commitment to remembering our identity in Jesus, perseverance despite our burdens, and a decision to follow after Jesus for the sake of our faith in him.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we are told: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). We may not be able to go to all the nations, but Christ meets us where we are. We can cultivate discipline and become disciples in our homes with those we live. We can do this by our example of faith, gratitude and joy even in the face of a worldwide virus. We can do this by tuning into livestreamed Masses at our parishes on Sunday, taking part in a holy hour at home, learning a new form of prayer or taking part in a Bible study over the phone with friends. Just because we are stuck in our homes or away from our jobs or our church does not mean all routine has to fall away. We are never left to wander, lost in the wilderness. Jesus gives us everything we need, and with motivation we can maintain discipline in our faithfulness to be Jesus’ disciples: to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.

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