A Priest's 7 Principles for Health and Fitness
One of the frequent requests I have had as a priest is to lift and move things- boxes in the sacristy, furniture in the rectory, tables and chairs in the parish center, and prior to my relocation to a more temperate climate- mounds of snow needing to be shoveled. Father Steve seems to be the go to priest when something (heavy) needs to be relocated or lifted. My pleas that my muscles are just for show usually fall on deaf ears. Years of weightlifting have made it evident that if something needs to be lifted or moved that I am the go to priest. Besides, I have been told, what else is all that weightlifting I do for if there isn’t a practical benefit? Folks are right about that. There is a practical benefit to being moderately strong and physically fit, and not just in terms of the ability to lift and move heavy objects, but also in an overall enhanced quality of life- body and soul. Soul and Body are for mission.
For years now my pursuit of remaining strong and physically fit has been directed by 7 principles. I had the pleasure of sharing these principles recently on a radio program and to satisfy popular demand (and a promise I made with the show's host) I am sharing them with our Word on Fire readers today. I hope they prove helpful.
1. Your Body is for Mission
One of the pitfalls of living in a culture so enamored with individualism is that it seems that our life, and in this respect, our body is akin to a piece of personal property over which we have absolute rights. The Christian perspective is different. For the disciple of the Lord Jesus, one’s body is not one’s property, but an extraordinary gift, and that gift is given for a particular purpose- a God given mission. The mission the human body is different for different people and the specifics of one's mission unfold in the revelation of one's vocation. This being the case, how a person employs their body in relation to their mission is integral to their growth in holiness. Often times a mission, and therefore one’s vocation, can be frustrated because one might, as a result of sinful proclivities, compromise the health and fitness of his/her own body. To neglect health and fitness is to treat one’s body as something that doesn’t belong to God and hasn't been given by God for a particular purpose. Flourishing in the body’s capacity to be healthy is something that enhances one’s ability to be a disciple with a mission. The mission of a disciple can be difficult. It may tax our energy and demand some measure of deprivation. A healthy body can endure much of what the mission will inevitably demand.
2. Your Soul Contains Your Body
That your soul contains your body is the great insight of St. Thomas Aquinas and believing this has profound implications, not just for how you conceive of the relationship of the soul to the body, but also for how you treat your body. Often times we think of the soul as inserted within our body and, as a result, a kind of dualism plagues our understanding of how the soul relates to the body. The body can even, in the construal of the soul being inside the body, be understood as detrimental or inconsequential to the soul. Aquinas’ insight heals the rift and I think reveals a much more creative and productive rapport between soul and body. I have taken this insight to mean that soul health and body health are correlative, and if we are doing things to our bodies that compromise our health and fitness, the impact is not limited to our physicality- the impact is spiritual as well. The work of building up one’s soul is not properly accomplished at the expense of the body, as if the body is the enemy of the soul. Instead, soul and body should flourish together and what we do for the soul and body should be for the benefit of both.
3. Eat to Live, Don’t Live to Eat
For those of us with lives situated in affluent cultures, food is never scarce. Certainly one does not need go foraging or hunting in order to eat; there's food on every city block and corner pantry we encounter. The abundance of tastes and flavors on constant display can entice us to consider pleasurable eating an end in itself, rather than a means towards good health, friendship and productivity. It’s perfectly okay to enjoy the experience of dining, but food does not have to please us perfectly every meal. We should be able to eat to live, rather than living to eat. This means that quite often we should be willing to eat a less desirous menu option or less satisfying portion size, because it is better for our bodies to do so.
4. Feasting is for Feast Days
The Catholic Liturgical Calendar is actually a helpful guide that can be used to moderate your habits of eating. Limit your consumption of rich foods and tasty desserts to the great solemnities of the Church’s year. Celebrate your family’s patron saints with special meals, but in between the solemnities and feast days, let your food choices be more modest and simple. Believe me, because of the number of solemnities and feast days that are worthy of celebration, you will never feel deprived of your favorite foods and treats, while at the same time you can habituate yourself a greater asceticism in terms of your eating habits.
5. Prefer the Foods that God Creates
A great deal of the food we consume is processed and while there is an advantage to this in terms of availability and convenience, we can’t really improve on the nutritional quality of natural eating. Limiting the amount of processed foods we eat is of great benefit to our overall health and fitness.
6. Get Moving
The body is created for motion and the body at rest is resting so that it can move. Technology has engendered a sedentary life for so many, and bodies made to move, yet deprived of this capacity, become unhealthy. Create opportunities in the course of a day to get moving.
7. Lift Something
Our muscles are not just for show. Muscular strength is a sign of overall health and fitness. You don’t have to become a bodybuilder or master Olympic lifts, but incorporating some kind of resistance training or calisthenics into your daily routine will help keep your body healthy and strong. A healthy and strong body is a body ready for mission and I don’t think the Lord will at all mind if you end up with an impressive set of biceps as well!
There you have it. These are my 7 principles. Living in accord with these principles have helped keep me physically and spiritually fit. What are you doing to keep your soul and body ready for mission?