By Henri J. M. Nouwen
Opening thoughts and basis for discussion
Our vocation as Christians is to follow Jesus on his downward path and to become witnesses to God’s compassion in the concrete situation of our time and place.
If we allow ourselves to become consumed by our “needs” and “desires” we lose our true vocation. It is within this tension that provides us with the necessity of spiritual formation.
To be witnesses or disciples of Christ we must be disciplined. Discipline in the spiritual life differs from discipline in other areas of our lives.
Three forms of Discipline
1. Discipline of the Church
2. Discipline of the Book
3. Discipline of the Heart
The Discipline of the Church
The discipline of the church is the way we remain in touch with our true story of God in history. This story is alive through the sacramental life of the church especially the celebration of the Eucharist.
The events of Christ’s life is realized among us in and through the church. It is Advent, Christ is coming; it is Christmas, Christ is born; it is Lent, Christ is suffering; It is Holy Week, Christ is dying; it is Easter, Christ is risen; it is Pentecost, Christ is sending his Spirit. All other events – personal, social, or political – derive their meaning from the life of Christ.
The Discipline of the Book
Reading the Scriptures is essential for anyone who wants to follow Christ on the road of downward mobility.
By the Word of God we are formed into living Christ, and this formation goes far beyond information, instruction, edification, or inspiration.
Reading and studying are often part of our attempts to be more relevant, spectacular, and powerful. We must however be mindful that even reading the Scripture itself can become dangerous for our spiritual life.
The Discipline of the Heart
“The discipline of the heart is the discipline of personal prayer. In the context of the liturgical life of the church, and supported by an ongoing meditation on the Word of God, personal prayer leads us to not just our own heart, but to the heart of God.” Nouwen pg. 82
Prayer as a spiritual discipline is necessary because it opens us to the reception of God, it prevents us from being filled by the world, and it allows us to pray and for God to pray through us.
The Witness of the Church
One way the church witnesses Christ is through the placements of Holy Icons. Icons are used throughout the church because they are associated with worship. The icon becomes a “window into heaven” and helps us direct our attention to divine things which go beyond the merely physical appearance.
“We will never be without struggle. But when we persevere with hope, courage and confidence, we will come to fully realize our innermost being that through the downward road of Christ we will enter with him into his glory. So let us be grateful for our vocation, resist our temptation, and be ever committed to a life of ongoing formation.” Nouwen