One of the great signs that a new evangelization is emerging in the Church is discerned in the dedication of the Catholic laity to the mission to proclaim and teach the Faith. Examples of this dynamism are numerous, and the efforts of the laity to build up and sustain Christ's Body are clearly having an effect. Many Catholic lay evangelists employ traditional forms of witness to the Faith, speaking one-on-one about the life changing power of the Gospel as it is lived in relation to the Church. Others lay evangelists have mastered the use of contemporary media.
Jared Zimmerer is using a barbell.
Well, he is doing more than just lifting weights. He has written a new book entitled "The Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights". The book is an expression of his own commitment to claim for Christ and the Church a place in the culture of physical fitness and sports.
Father Steve recently asked Jared about his mission and his apostolate to enhance both the physical and spiritual strength of Catholics so that they might better serve the Kingdom.
Jared, you do not seem to be the typical Catholic evangelist. What can you tell me about yourself?
I grew up in Denton, Texas. Both my parents are devout Catholics. I have always loved sports. In high school I played the typical Texas sports, football, basketball, and track. After high school I attended the University of North Texas where I obtained a degree in Kinesiology. While in college I met this very attractive girl named Jessica, and we have been married for five years and have three children (all boys) and a little girl on the way in August.
I have a passion for reading anything I can get my hands on, from the philosophy of Von Hildebrand, to the orations of Cicero, to the theology of Pope Benedict.
Currently, I have an interest in the classic literature of Dostoesky, Dante and Dumas. But my favorite literary figure is J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's work introduced me to the beauty of a good book, and it showed me how a good book can transform a culture from within, which is what I hope to do with my book, "The Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights."
Have you always been a man of the Faith or was there a particular moment of that you would identify as a conversion or spiritual awakening?
I have not always been a man of the Faith. I come from a devout family who set the right example for me and gave me everything I needed to be devout, but I was selfish. At the age of 18, I experienced the part of the bodybuilding world that can drag you down; I became your typical self-worshipping meathead. After my senior year of high school all I wanted to do was be a professional bodybuilder. I spent hours in the gym every day and focused solely on myself. I didn't pray. I neglected my faith. But after I met my future wife I started looking at how I was living.
Because of my Catholic upbringing I immersed myself in the writings of Aquinas, Fulton Sheen, Lorenzo Scupoli and Francis de Sales. I started to understand that virtue and holiness is what makes a man. But I think that the final straw was recognizing that sacrifice and willingness to give your life for a cause is the ultimate end for any man. I started wondering, "what do I have to die for?" The only answer, besides my family, was my Catholic Faith. And from there my perspective changed.
I wanted the passion and drive that the saints had which allowed them to look death in the face with a smile.
What have you learned from the Church about the relationship of the health and fitness of the body as both relate to the health and fitness of the soul?
One of my favorite quotes regarding the Church and fitness comes from Pope Pius XII, "The human body is in its own right, God's masterpiece in the order of visible creation. In the field of physical culture, the Christian concept needs to receive nothing from the outside, but has much to give." Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "the unity of the soul and the body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the form of the body." The same virtues that a person practices in the gym and a healthy diet, fortitude and temperance, are also extremely important to the soul. So, while increasing in the virtues of fitness, we can increase in magnanimity as well.
Teaching that the body is a gift from our Creator, the Church appreciates fitness and health as long as it is in proper proportion and perspective.
Many associate the commitment to physical health and fitness as akin to narcissism or as a detriment to the spiritual life. How do you respond to this?
Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and enable us to love and worship God. Thus, the body cannot be left in shambles, and we need to appreciate our health. When God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, he sanctified the physical body. St. Thomas Aquinas even says that God became man so that men might become gods! Seeing fitness through the lens of Truth enables a person to appreciate what the body is capable of. Our Lord blessed us with the ability to grow in strength, muscularity, dexterity and athleticism.
In my book "The Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights" I make the case that when I speak of bodybuilding I am not referring to the ogre type men who are so full of pharmaceuticals that they no longer look human. While we all come in different shapes and sizes, all of which are fantastic because God created us, we can become a living, breathing work of art. When a person exercises for the greater glory of God, then the God of love and discipline is expounded through physicality.
Are there similarities between the life of a disciple and the life of an athlete?
Yes. St. Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians that "Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a persihable crown, but we an imperishable one." A disciple and an athlete both understand one major theme: discipline. An athlete spends countless hours focusing and harnessing his craft, giving up anything that might deter him from his ultimate goal of winning. The same goes for a disciple of Christ. He spends hours in prayer and foregoes anything that might deter him from his goal of heaven.
Another factor is competition with yourself. This is especially true with weightlifting, and I write about this in my book. As a person commits to grow in strength, size, flexibility, or pure athleticism, it takes a desire to push yourself, many times to the edge of exhaustion. It's the same with discipleship. We compete against our own desires and instincts to pray more, make it to the Sacraments more often, to deepen our knowledge of the Catholic Faith.
Are there any saints who embody the ideals you write about in "The Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights"?
I think that the best example from modern times is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I chose him as the patron saint of my ministry because he exemplifies the spirit of appreciating the body in its athletic abilities, while giving glory to God in the process. He was a skier, hiker, a mountain climber, a bicyclist, and I am sure that if bodybuilding was popular back then he would have hit the weights as well.
Health and fitness are issues that many priests really struggle with. Any advice?
Many priests are extremely busy so it is understandable that fitting in a bout of exercise during the day might be cumbersome. The best advice I would give to a parish priest would be to search out a parishioner involved in fitness. Most fitness practitioners would jump at the chance to have a faithful work out partner- especially a priest! Incorporating health and fitness into their priestly service can become a way of growing closer to Christ and part of the priestly mission to save souls.
I belong to a wonderful apostolate called Balanced Families Ministries, through which I have created a men's ministry devoted to promoting overall wellbeing in terms of body, mind and soul. This ministry is called Strength for the Kingdom. After an hour of prayer and learning about the Faith we weight train, practice martial arts and I hope to incorporate survival training in the near future. A ministry like this is easy to plan and incorporate into a parish.
I have to establish your gym credibility. Let's hear some stats.
For one rep max my stats are:
Bench — 380
Squat — 415
Deadlift — 545
Any future projects in the works?
Currently I am working on a group project entitled "The Eight Beatitudes of Iron: Discipleship for the Warrior Monk." After than I am thinking about something to do with the Seven Deadly Sins of Fitness.
I challenge you to a pull up/chin up contest. Game on?
I love a challenge. The person with the least amount of pull ups says five rosaries for the winner.
Agreed. Stay tuned to Word on Fire for Jared versus Father Steve in what could be the pull up/chin up challenge of the century. Thanks Jared! And I hope that you can contribute more of your wisdom about health, fitness and the spiritual life to the Word on Fire blog in the future.
"What are some ways that you build strength for the Kingdom in terms of the health and fitness of your body, mind and soul?"
Jared and Father Steve will take a look at your answers and award five copies of "The Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights" to the individuals with the best five answers.
Contest ends Monday, July 2.