Technology has given us a way of being that values the ease with which we can do things. Our ancestors needed to build fires to get warm. They needed to light candles for light. They had to go out to the ‘outhouse’ to take care of nature’s needs. Transportation was more difficult. It took more time and more labor to get anywhere.
Communication depended on the slow arrival of letters or the personal visits that required the expenditure of time and money to go to someone’s house and stay there to talk and communicate. But today we have central heating and air conditioning, electric lights, indoor plumbing and hot water anytime we want it.
Our car awaits us right outside and on our roads we can go anywhere. To say nothing of our jets that bring us to far flung places in a matter of hours!
Communication also has many forms: smartphones, email, tweets, Facebook, etc.
It is very easy to take this for granted, but the ease of things also means that we can lose the precious experience of effort and discipline that our ancestors had to have to be able to simply live another day.
Some things still require a lot of discipline. Take the act of learning. The only way one learns is to apply the mind and through steady and consistent discipline (seen mainly through reading, memorization for testing, and logical thought required for writing) one becomes educated. It is a slow and laborious process but, once mastered, it prepares the person to face any obstacles in a self-confident manner.
The experience of educators that I have spoken with is that there has been a real decline in the quality of learning that is evidenced by testing etc. Grammar is deficient. The ability to problem solve has deteriorated. All that is necessary to put together a consistently thought out essay is not present in the typical modern student. The reason often cited is that the pupil does not do the work. It is that simple. You assign reading and it is not done. You require projects to be completed and excuses are given and no results. What is lacking is the desire and the fulfillment of the simple ability to be disciplined. What is lacking is the will to do the back breaking work of study, memorization, trial and error that goes into the task of learning. The ease with which we do so much has invaded learning. If it is not easy, it is not done.
The passive principle of the watcher of many screens (computer, TV, smartphones) has invaded the precincts of the active land of learning.
The results of this are pervasive. It affects the courts, the military and the sciences. All human endeavors require that one climb the steep mountain of discipline to reach the heights of discovery and innovation.
When we abandon the means to do this it affects everything we touch.
The desire for the easy way (was almost invariable is the wrong way) has disastrous effects on the Spiritual Path as well. Self-denial and the carrying of one’s cross in imitation of Christ are at the very center of the Gospel project of evangelization. Prayer requires the discipline of silence and solitude. Liturgy requires the discipline of learning of the tradition. Works of mercy require the discipline of hard work and tireless concern.
A simple example. When one approaches someone about their lack of attendance at the Sunday Eucharist, one encounters the all too often repeated: “It’s so boring.”
All the benefits of the Liturgy: The Word of God, the presence of the community and belonging, the reception of the Body and Blood of the Incarnate God all evaporate before the all negating evil of boredom!!! What is boredom but the results of a passivity that requires endless diversion, instead of an offering of the individual of the disciplined self-gift to God. While the priest must make every effort to provide sound theological and spiritually uplifting homilies, it is up to the individual worshiper to come prepared and on time for this most important weekly event. Has one gone over the reading before Mass?
Has one arrived on time? Has one made a good confession of sin with some proximity of the celebration?
Is one open and disposed to pray? Does one come with an attitude of defiance or demand that gives birth to a skepticism that shouts out a “Show me why I should keep coming to this?”
No, one must do a great deal of disciplined work before one even enters the door of the Church.
Lent is the traditional time in the Church year when we confront our laziness and our lack of effort. We determine the areas of our life that need to be addressed and in prayer, fasting and almsgiving we exercise the choices we need to make to ‘get our house in order’. We reset our priorities where they need to be and we set about the task of discipline that opens us to the endless possibilities of God’s grace, gratefully received.