By: Daniella Palmiotto
When I think of the topics of spiritual and physical discipline, I take a step back to think about the purpose of discipline and the spiritual benefits that flow from a disciplined life. This is a fruitful exercise for me because I have hidden behind the term “discipline” and have used “discipline” to justify my behavior on many occasions. I admit that I am a recovering discipline addict – I feel most comfortable and validated when I am busy, completing tasks, working, serving, being involved, etc. This has assisted me in many ways as I pursued athletic, academic, and professional endeavors. However, it has also left me feeling spent and empty on several occasions and during several seasons of my life.
It took me a while before I recognized this because my motivation was to do the work in order to glorify God; however, I was mainly relying on my sheer will and work ethic. It felt as though I was strong-arming my way through life and striving to achieve. I know that I am not alone in this experience as I have found this to be the norm among my friends and acquaintances. The average person feels overcommitted in work responsibilities, extra-curricular activities, and with little mental capacity to tend to their interior lives. This is where I often found myself during high school, college, law school, and afterwards as I began my career. I was too tired to care for myself, let alone others. The interesting thing was that I often felt validated in this existence because I was busy and productive. If you asked me whether I felt a sense of interior peace, I would have probably explained my responsibilities and/or my job and the reasons why it was impossible to feel peace in those circumstances.
The truth is that I was more comfortable busying myself with work and tasks instead of being quiet with myself and allowing myself to feel the emotions that I was masking with discipline and noise, both figurative and literal. I believe that big steps like stepping into uncomfortable emotions, and small steps, like taking a walk when my mind needs a break or stopping work to eat lunch, are critical pieces in learning what it means to be human. Although I wanted to believe that I was disciplined, I was not reaping the spiritual benefits of discipline because I was sustaining myself through my limited strength instead of the strength that God provides.
What I perceived to be discipline was really an attempt to fulfill my desire for control. I also used it to inflict punishment on myself when I felt that I messed up and needed to make up for my mistakes. Finally, my formulation of discipline was a manifestation of my own pride. It led me to believe that I was in control; that I was falling short if I did not perform to a certain standard; and that I was not valuable if I did not accomplish.
Contrary to my idea of discipline, true discipline involves parameters that guide one towards holiness. When that is the case, discipline does not have to be rigid and inflexible, but rather should be flexible and should direct us towards behaviors and habits that bring us closer to Christ and that allow the Holy Spirit to direct our steps and to mold our hearts to more closely model Jesus and Mary. This discipline actually leads to freedom, freedom to be our authentic selves.
How is it that we modify our human tendencies for control, worry, fear, anger, and all of the other emotions that we are prone to? We learn from Jesus, Mary, and the saints that the antidote to these tendencies is virtue. Virtue is one of those words that I used to think of as an unreachable
aspiration like sainthood or holiness. Something that only special people could develop, but not me, not with my crazy moods, emotions, shortcomings, and flaws. It was through my journey with SoulCore that I began to realize that virtue, holiness, and sainthood are possible for each of us.
SoulCore promotes deeper faith by meditating on the virtues of each of the mysteries of the Rosary. By meditating on the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary, we are able to see how their human lives were marked by lively virtues and how the Holy Spirit can increase these virtues in our own hearts so that we battle our human tendency for sin and vice. SoulCore provides the space and silence to meditate more deeply on the fact that Jesus and Mary were human. That is to say that on a daily basis, their lives were filled with joys, challenges, disappointments, drudgery, monotony, hope, and discipline. They bathed, cared for their bodies, ate, had friends, had responsibilities and jobs, and Mary had a husband. How did they handle conflict, awkward situations, loneliness, despair, and unmet expectations? It is so profound for me to think about these things. By meditating on the virtues of the mysteries of the Rosary, we can glean the practical side of these mysteries. We may never be transfigured as Jesus was, but we can grow in the virtue of a desire for holiness, which is one of the fruits of that fourth Luminous Mystery. We may never be scourged as punishment for crimes we did not commit, but we too can grow in the virtues of purity and mortification, the fruits of the second Sorrowful mystery.
If virtue is the answer to our inclinations for sin and vice, what do we do with discipline? Discipline still has a role when it is flexible and when it is intended to bring us freedom and to make us more fully human. Discipline helps us to choose virtue because we develop the spiritual muscle to choose virtue instead of being chained to the longings of our flesh. By living within the parameters of discipline, we can experience the joys of this world without succumbing to extremes. Anything that is good becomes bad when it is taken to an extreme – on either side of the spectrum. Work is a good thing and was given to us by God even before the fall. We see how on either side of a virtuous view of work, there are the extremes of working too little and being lazy or working too much and being addicted to productivity and work. The internet is an example of this – when used properly, it is a wonderful medium to reach others; but when used in excess, it can lead to addiction and to wasted time. We can look at anything good in our lives and see how it is the virtuous middle that leads us to freedom and to joy. Aristotle even spoke about this in his Theory of the Doctrine of the Mean.
Now I want to be sure to point out that I said “anything good.” It is not the case that anything in moderation is good. There are certain things that are intrinsically wrong – these things include pornography, murder, lying, sexual immorality, among other things. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic theologian who developed the theory of Natural Law, said that the good is anything that makes us happy as long as it promotes “life, procreation, knowledge, and society.” When trying to decide if something is good, we can apply this test by asking if it furthers life, procreation, knowledge and society. If it does, then it is a moral good, if it does not, then it is intrinsically wrong and we should flee from it. If we find that something is a moral good, then we approach it with virtue and discernment.
Now moving to the topic of physical discipline and how it helps us to grow in holiness. We learn in the Theology of the Body about the importance of our bodies. St. John Paul II delivered the
Theology of the Body through 129 of his Wednesday audiences and Christopher West has compiled these teachings in a way that is understandable for the lay person. St. JPII said “Christians in the Modern World had lost sight of the fact that at the core of this Gospel is the affirmation of the inseparable connection between the person, his life and his bodiliness.” Our bodies are very important – God could have chosen to house our souls in anything and He chose to give us bodies. I cannot see your soul, but I can see your body and your body represents to me your eternal soul that was created to live forever. This is such deep and profound truth that has serious implications – our bodies matter and are to be cared for because they are a gift. SoulCore incorporates movements to delve deeper into the virtues and mysteries of the Rosary. The movements are an invitation and are not required, but by experiencing some discomfort and by using the gift of movement, something awakens within us that allows us to focus more deeply on what it is that we are praying. We can approach all physical exercise in this way – it is a gift to move and should not be an obsession, but should be approached from the perspective of virtue – moderation, self-control, and temperance.
Holy Spirit, come, shine Your light into our hearts and reveal those things that are taking up a lot of mental space and preoccupation or obsession and transform our hearts so that we may grow in virtue. May our hearts be more like Mary’s heart as she pondered the goodness of God and received blessings with gratitude and virtue. May we appreciate the many blessings in our lives without becoming slaves to them and without developing the need to control them. May we grow in true discipline that releases us from our chains and allows us to grow in union with You.