Aug 20, 2020

Take a moment to recall your reaction when you saw that the title of today’s reflection was “discipline”.

My first thoughts on hearing the word discipline are of childhood punishments or the hard work of disciplined preparation for a game or performance.

However the etymology of the word is much more inviting.

The word “discipline” is derived from the Latin meaning one who learns by listening to a teacher and who is willing to follow. This of course is why followers of Jesus are called “disciples.”

Such disciplined-discipleship is not an add-on to human life or an optional extra for those who are looking for a challenge. Instead we disciples of Jesus are followers of Jesus because we have found in Him the answer to the restlessness and dis-ease of our lives.

In Jesus we find an adequate response to the question that is human existence, not in a method or a programme for life but in the person of Jesus, God who IS LIFE-with-us and in us.

From the first Christian decades countless people have lived as disciples of Jesus as parents and children and wider families in their work and homes and recreation. Unfortunately for us few of these had the ability and resources to leave written accounts of these saintly and heroic lives. However those who lived in monasteries did write, and their reflections and biographical stories were safeguarded in monastic libraries and are therefore available to us today.

Bernard of Clairvaux (b. 1090AD – d. 20 August 1153) lived almost 1000 years ago and sought to reform and renew the Benedictine way of life (then already 500 years old) as a Cistercian (Trappist) monk. Thomas Merton was a Cistercian, and Southern Star Abbey in Kopua New Zealand is a Cistercian monastery.

There is one quote from Bernard’s writings that I especially appreciate:

“I have ascended to the highest in me, and look, the Word is towering above that. I have descended to explore my lowest depths, and I found Him deeper still.”

The clear message is that the life of a disciple is a journey of growth in maturity of relationship with Christ that stretches us in every way. In this day-by-day process of maturation we gradually become ourselves.

In the late 1700’s English poet William Wordsworth visited the Tintern Abbey (pictured above – founded 9 May 1131AD) the first Cistercian Abbey in Wales. At the time of Wordsworth’s visit the abbey had been in ruins for 250 years. In his poem entitled Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey: he reflects:

 – And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; 
           William Wordsworth

While many ancient monasteries now lie like Tintern in ruins, many others have a history with a pattern of rise and decline and rise again across the centuries.

Yes, there have been many saints in monasteries just as there are many now fully with God who have lived earthly lives in families working in factories and fields and business enterprises.

When we seek to live more deeply in relationship with Jesus we discover the need for healthy discipline and good companionship to prevent us from becoming disheartened. We are especially vulnerable when we forget that living as disciples of Jesus is not a magical escape from life’s challenges, but a way of living life’s most difficult moments of this journey in the experience of being “disturbed” by “the joy of elevated thoughts.”

Let’s be encouraged by the prophet Isaiah writing more than 2500 years ago:

“The Lord God has given me a disciple’s tongue
to know how to comfort the weary with a word
Morning by morning he sharpens my ear
to listen like a disciple”.  Isaiah 50:4


An Invitation:

  • Which word or phrase or thought from today’s reflection spoke most strongly to you. Perhaps Jesus is inviting you to take this as a mantra for the day?


  • Email john@fff.org.nz to indicate your decision to take these days as a simple retreat-in-daily-life, and to invite others to keep you in prayer. (Apologies for yesterday’s faulty link)


  • If you have an hour free and are looking for some inspiration, you might find this film interesting. Especially inspiring to see the way these monks live the life-giving Benedictine rhythm of life as a healthy discipline.


  • If you are not already signed up (ie you didn’t receive this morning’s reflection by email), click the image below to receive daily Food For Faith emails for the next few days. (Apologies for yesterday’s faulty link)


  1. It’s so great to have you back!!

  2. Amen

  3. Yes the art of listening. This morning a thrush was singing it’s heart out. I needed the decision and ‘discipline’ to stop and listen. It enriched my day.

  4. Bless you Fr John as you accompany us as Shepherd and Pastor. May ‘discipline’ open the eyes of our hearts.

  5. Thank you for these reflections.

    • Thank you for the reflection. I know the Holy Spirit lives within us and desires to unite all peoples of the earth in harmony of belief and with knowledge of the scriptures. The trouble is the busyness of our lives and the debris in our minds form a blockade making it difficult even for the Holy Spirit to form a partnership with us. We are to full of ourselves!

  6. That the life of a disciple is a journey of growth in maturity in living his relationship with Christ is a sobering and humbling thought. Even for an oldie like me, I see how much still I need to grow and mature. Thanks Fr John, st Bernard, an all the others I’ve met along the journey for your companionship.

  7. Thank you Fr. Especially for the Trappist documentary…. here in the North island of New Zealand we have a monastery where I have spent several retreats years ago. This has made me think about re visiting this peaceful place.
    Thank you…..


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