Just a few words on the second reading of today’s Mass – this letter to the Hebrews. Scholars say this letter was not written to a major Christian community otherwise it would bear the name of the community as other letters did; Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Philippians and Galatians. Scholars claim it was written around the year 80, a time of pause between two great persecutions of the church. The first persecution was during the time of Nero in the year 64 and the next one was during the time of Domitian in the year 85. This community had memories of its leaders being put to death and the experience of suffering harsh treatment under the authorities of the time but they had not just resisted to the point of shedding blood. But they knew that their freedom of religion and their lives depended on the whim of people in power. The Christians faced restrictions and limitations on their freedom, never knowing when some bureaucrat would make their lives difficult.
Whoever wrote this beautiful letter tells them, ‘do not treat lightly the discipline which the Lord sends, never lose heart when you are put to the test by him; for the Lord disciplines the one whom he loves.’ The members of this struggling Christian community are encouraged to endure trials for the sake of discipline. Now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.’
When we hear the word ‘discipline’ we think of punishment. But the way this word is used in our second reading has more to do with the whole process of education or formation whereby young persons are helped to develop those qualities of mind and body that characterize a true adult; strength, stability and the coping skills necessary to deal with the joys and struggles of life. So the author of this letter is inviting his readers to regard the harsh realities of their lives as teachable moments and occasions of growth rather than seeing them as God’s punishment for sin.
When we look at our own life experiences don’t we find this insight to be true? If things come easily they go easily.
To get through a school year, to learn a trade, to gain any professional status takes hard work. We have to discipline ourselves to stay at the books. We discipline ourselves in the living of our faith; attending Mass, taking time for prayer and devotions, doing acts of charity, all these deepen our relationship with God.
I remember hearing a talk years ago by a young woman who was severely handicapped but who gained a university degree. Her name was Monica and in telling her story she often quoted her mother who told her time and time again when she wanted to give up, “Monica, the world does not owe you a living.” Her disciplinarian mother helped Monica become a wonderful, inspirational woman.
At North York General Hospital, 4 west is the orthopedic ward. The most feared and resented person on the floor is the physio therapist. He or she is the person who makes patients move their new knees or hips, painful though it may be. They make them get out of bed and take their first steps. It can be pretty painful but they must do these exercises if the operation is to be successful. Often patients call them names and tell them they should find work with the Spanish Inquisition or the Tower of London. They are not torturers but healers and they heal through discipline.
It is not easy to remain faithful to the call of Christ, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ It’s not easy to be patient, kind, open to men and women different from ourselves. It’s not easy to hold our heads high in the midst of the scandalous situations in our church and the constant press coverage it receives but these are the trials though which we grow in faith. Someone wrote these true words’ ‘If anyone is tempted to complain that the pain and cost of being Christian are too great, the author of this letter to the Hebrews would reply – get up and run, suck it up. In the Christian faith, if you play on through your hurt, you will end up healed; if you stay on the sidelines your injury will only worsen. Therefore get yourself in gear and go forward,
Do not treat lightly the discipline which the Lord sends; never lose heart when you are put to the test by him;
In our struggles to be faithful to the Christ Who gave his all for each of us may we allow the Holy Spirit to be our physio therapist giving us the courage and determination to take one more step in our efforts to follow Christ where ever He may lead us.