Today is First Friday, a day many Catholics make a point to get to Mass. This devotion dates back to the 17th century and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. When the alarm went off this morning, I was very tempted to just ignore my good intentions and keep snuggling in my very comfortable bed. But I didn't. I got up, got dressed, and got to Mass. The Friday Mass in our parish is always special since it is followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After Mass I took advantage of being able to kneel in the Real Presence of Christ and offer a Rosary. I then sat in the silence for a few minutes, offering all my thoughts and endeavors for the day to Jesus and taking the time to be still so I could hear any responses.
It would have been so easy to skip this Mass. It is not required. But my day is going so much better because I added a little discipline to my morning. George Weigel reflected on the concept of discipline in yesterday's Lenten reflection in his new book, Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches. (As an aside, I am loving this book for my Lenten reading. I get a daily reflection that includes both the Mass reading and readings from the Divine Office. I also get a daily dose of art and architectural history.) Weigel called on the writings of Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers who compared the discipline of virtue to the discipline required for language or music. There are rules to language that govern both the written and spoken word. These are not limiting constraints. The discipline of language is actually liberating because it frees us to effectively communicate. Imagine trying to read this text if I ignored the conventions of spacing and punctuation or ignored the proper use of the parts of speech. My work would lack clarity and be wholly ineffective in conveying my ideas.
Likewise, music requires discipline. Following the rules of rhythm and tonal progression allow for a recognizable melody. Failure to respect the discipline of music gives rise to discordant noise whose structure is more akin to wailing alley cats than to music. The discipline of music liberates us to create beauty.
Our life of virtue is similar. I have often heard virtue described as the habit of doing good. Like any other habit it requires training and practice. It takes discipline to establish a good habit whether we are talking about the practice of brushing our teeth every night or the practice of speaking to others with charity. The discipline of good dental hygiene liberates us from the pain of dental disease. The discipline of virtue liberates us from the pitfalls of vice. How different the world would be if everyone embraced the virtues of generosity, prudence, humility, fortitude, temperance, chastity, and diligence. While at first glance virtue may appear as a constraining list of rules and prohibitions, the discipline of virtue is actually the key to authentic freedom.