Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 364, quoting Gaudium et Spes)
As Catholics, we profess a belief that we are a union of body and soul. But what does that mean in our daily lives?
It means we need to do a much better job of living an integrated life, where there is no division between body and soul. Our God, truth himself, took on our human nature, our flesh, to bring us to everlasting life. So shouldn’t this theology of the body enter a little more into our daily lives?
As we incorporate fitness and care for our bodies into our lives, we not only learn to see the correlation between prayer and spirit and body and mortification, but we also truly incorporate the practice of virtue, fortitude, detachment, trust, patience, and joyful endurance of suffering in our daily lives.
We recognize that glorifying God in our body and tending to this “temple of the holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19) is a daily practice that must last our entire life. That can be scary. Remember though, God calls us over and over again in Scripture to “be not afraid.” So let’s allow “perfect love [to drive] out fear” (1 John 4:18) and enter this journey of growing and training our integrated body and soul together.
That, then, is the goal of this column. Every time we’ll have a meditation on spirituality and fitness, as well as a way of putting it into practice, whether you’re just beginning this journey or you’re a seasoned athlete and prayer warrior.
In addition, I’ll probably almost always recommend that you dive deeper by reading my book Grit & Glory: Cross Training Your Body and Soul (Our Sunday Visitor, 2018). In this column, we’ll have space for me to share one meditation and one workout every few months, but in my book, there’s obviously space for much more and a greater opportunity for learning and growth. I hope this column inspires and challenges you, and encourages you to want more. That said, let’s get started.
I like to start every workout with prayer. And when a workout gets tough and I want to stop, I like to recommit and offer the continued suffering of my next set or my last couple of reps to God. I also think that the work of every day should start with prayer, with listening to God. Whenever I don’t start this way, I can always tell the difference, and it’s not a good difference. So for our workout here, we’ll begin at the beginning of the day — with prayer.
When you wake up, find silence and stillness. Offer thanks to God for the first three things that come to mind. Sometimes these three things will surprise you, especially if they’re things you wouldn’t ordinarily be thankful for! In the exercise of this practice, I’ve found myself offering thanks for everything from family, the gift of life, and my home to things such as physical pain, bills I have to pay, and embarrassment experienced the previous day. This practice teaches us to “consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2).
Next, spend the following five minutes in silence. Don’t get started praying a Rosary, don’t ask God for anything — just sit and listen. If you’re looking to focus your listening, you can meditate on what you’ve expressed gratitude for, but really try to give God room to speak in silence.
Now for the physical part. We’re going to start with something simple (but not easy!), and as always, you’re welcome to find many more options in my book. Three days this week, you will do three exercises until failure (which means that try as you might, you absolutely cannot complete one more repetition). Two days this week, you will walk or run uphill (or at a steep incline on a treadmill), depending on your level of fitness.
Days 1, 3, and 5
Push-ups (or knee push-ups if you are unable to complete three push-ups) to failure
Pull-ups (or towel rows if you are unable to complete two pull-ups) to failure
Air squats (or squats with weight if you have access to weight) to failure
For all three exercises, perform the repetitions slowly. Each “down” portion of the repetition should take 2 to 4 seconds, and each up portion should take 1 to 2 seconds. Each set should last at least 45 seconds.
Beginner: Do each exercise once through (one “set”) on each day.
Intermediate: Do a tri-set of the exercises, three times through: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and repeat, starting again with push-ups.
Expert: Do the tri-set five times through.
Note: If you’re unfamiliar with these exercises, be sure to watch and understand a video on how to complete them properly before attempting them.
Days 2 and 4
Find a steep hill. It should be one that takes at least one minute to summit at a comfortable walking pace.
Beginner: Walk up the hill and back down the hill three times.
Intermediate: Jog up the hill and walk back down five times.
Expert: Sprint up the hill and jog down 10 times.
May … leisure be used properly to relax, to fortify the health of soul and body through spontaneous study and activity. (GS, 61)