Discipline is in short supply in the postmodern West. A long season of postwar prosperity has made possible an age of indulgence in which technological fixes substitute for virtue, fake remedies for the wages of vice. We indulge immoderately in food, drink, and sex, and expect pills to save us. And where a sort of discipline is exercised, it’s exercised punitively: those in charge wish to show others that They Are Taking Matters Seriously. The late Francis Cardinal George pegged our problem when he wrote, “The world permits everything and forgives nothing.”
And so we let everything go until it is made public that someone has transgressed some new boundary du jour as our ongoing cultural revolutions, like Saturn, devour ever more of their children, and ours. But medicine is no substitute for virtue, and policy is no substitute for discipline. Pills may arrest disease, and bylaws may channel outcomes, but we remain human, and only the real disciplining of body, mind, and spirit will make us ever more so, truly free to live as we ought under God.
Living tokens of discipline do abide. Every Olympic athlete is only free to excel because she has disciplined her body in years of training. Every world-class musician is only free to excel at his instrument because he has disciplined himself in years of practice. Demosthenes, so the ancient story goes, was only free to be a great orator because he practiced speaking over the roar of the ocean waves with pebbles on his tongue. What’s true for individuals goes for groups as well: Crack military units and famous sports teams excel in battle and match because they have practiced corporate discipline.
Read more at Catholic World Report.