Matrices came to mind. Matrices were numbers written in grids and we were supposed to be able to do sums by using them. I never understood matrices, or the point of doing them. The school maths teacher used to try to explain them by saying that we should imagine we were milkmen delivering pints of milk to a block of flats -each number was the number of bottles and its position in the matrix was the flat to which the bottles had to be delivered – it still didn’t make any sense. The maths teacher’s efforts at teaching us to understand the point of matrices were probably about as successful as some of my own efforts to teach the point of things.
One of my favourite moments of the week is spending an hour on Thursday mornings with 5th and 6th Class students in Clonenagh National School. We use the Church of Ireland religious education course “Follow Me”, but sometimes there are times when we digress, when there are other questions to be answered. Sometimes there are questions to which there are no answers, like why good people often suffer bad things, but sometimes there are questions that prompt discussion.
One morning there was a question about the point of doing some subject or other and we talked about the various things being learned. It was not easy to say why everything being taught was important, but the explanation that came to mind was that learning was like part of the fitness training we would go through in preparing to play a sport. Whether rugby or soccer or hurling or hockey, overall fitness was important. Similarly, school lessons were part of getting fit for whatever we would do in the years to come.
Doing things for the sake of discipline has always been part of the life of the church. In the time of Jesus, boys would have learned the Scriptures by heart. There must have been times when they wondered about all they had to learn, but the learning process taught them the need for being disciplined in their faith.
This time of year, as we go through Lent and come to Holy Week, discipline should bring us to church, perhaps it won’t always make sense, perhaps there are things we will not understand, but like learning matrices or doing fitness training, it is part of the whole. Discipline shapes our faith, without discipline our faith becomes unfit and weak and not strong enough for what might lie ahead.