Lenten Discipline

Christians the world over entered the liturgical season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Many Catholic Christians were notified by their priests and bishops of the specific rules to be followed during these penitential 40 days leading into Holy Week and Easter. At my parish the list of Lenten Disciplines took up a whole page in the bulletin. This included the details of what comprised ‘fasting’ and ‘abstinence from meat’ and to whom it applied. Most people know that Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, and alms giving where self-sacrifice is called for. But in our individualistic age it rankles to read the rules laid out so unambiguously. The notion of discipline itself has a negative sound to modern ears. However, if we listen to the word carefully, we may be able to hear the cognate word ‘disciple’ – a word, at least to Christian ears, that is perceived more positively. In the Latin root the words refer to what is taught (disciplina), a teaching; and to one who is taught (discipulus), a student. This was pointed out to me many years ago by a monk I had visited seeking spiritual direction. He understood my desire to be a disciple of Our Lord. And as a Benedictine he surely knew about discipline. As we spoke and prayed for guidance as to my particular calling as a disciple, he said that there is always a discipline that is present and available to each person that is suited for his particular gifts and work. No doubt he saw that I had a greater desire to be a disciple than I had for discipline – for I went away disappointed in my hope that I would find in him a director for my spiritual longings.

Over the years since I have come to see that I did find spiritual direction in this encounter.  I have carried with me this understanding of the ever-present discipline that is always available, so that whenever I hear the word ‘discipline’ I perceive an opportunity to become a disciple, to be taught and to learn.

Gil Bailie introduced me to Fr. Dunstan Morrissey, O.S.B. in the early 1990’s and posted the following note when Dunstan passed from this life:

Here is the obituary of this most extraordinary man:

Fr. Dunstan Morrissey, O.S.B., died on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at the age of 85. He was the son of Robert and Joy Buchanan Morrissey and graduated magna cum laude from University of Notre Dame. He also attended L’Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales, Geneva, and Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Bombay. He served as a U.S. Vice Consul at Alexandria, Egypt before entering monastic life at St. Bede Abbey, Peru, Illinois where he taught and was ordained a priest. Fr. Dunstan devoted the rest of his life to his vocation as a hermit monk, in silence, solitude, and solidarity with the world.

His was a life of solitude, silence and prayer lived with such integrity that the lives of those fortunate enough to discover it were changed by his witness.


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