Because of a career in exercise science and physical fitness, I like to make analogies from the physical domain to faith, of which there can be many. As a one-time YMCA Director, I have always believed in its motto: we should strive for an integrated spirit, mind and body. I was recently reminded of that slogan.
Paying for the sins of our youth
To say that one pays for the sins of their youth is a well-known cliché. Psalm 25: 7 tells us, however, that we are forgiven for those sins.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
According to Your loving kindness remember me,
For Your goodness’ sake, O LORD.
However, there may be some truth to that saying in the physical domain. We may have to pay the consequences in later years for the wear and tear we may have put on our body. Granted, whatever physical efforts and trauma we put ourselves through is not sinful, however we still may have had physical experiences that have health implications later on in life. The reality is made known every time I have to go for physical therapy (PT) for orthopedic flare-ups from past injuries. Playing football into college, being a baseball and fast pitch softball catcher into middle age, and having served as a paratrooper jumping out of perfectly good airplanes means that periodic PT will be part of the aging process.
The latest PT required some painful exercises, a typical and to be expected experience. It also offered considerable time with passive therapies such as heat, ice packs and ultrasound, which afforded the opportunity to just think and reflect. As my mind wandered, a thought caught my attention about the commonalities between the PT process and the process of living out our faith.
Therapy and Mass one day a week
PT sessions may only be one day a week but they serve many purposes. First, PT serves as a review for progress. Secondly, it serves as an educational function providing supervised training to insure that an exercise is performed correctly. Finally, it provides motivation to continue in the rehabilitation process.
A similar process is seen in our attempt to live the faith by attending weekly Mass. Participating in Mass at least once a week is a key habit that serves the same purposes, but in a different context. First, Mass can be a review process for examining our sins – for what we have done or not done during the week. Secondly, the Mass can be a re-education process, through Scripture readings and the homily, for how we are to live out our faith. Finally, Mass, through the Eucharist can motivate us go forth and live out the Gospel in our lives.
Exercise and faith between therapy and Mass
Physical therapy does not work unless one practices the exercises on a daily basis-often many times during the day. One day a week under the supervision of a physical therapist is not enough. There is a cumulative effect. A common finding is that those who do not continue the exercises on their own through the week tend not to accomplish rehabilitation goals and do not function better physically.
The same could be said in the spiritual realm. What happens for our spiritual fitness if we just go to Mass on Sundays, yet push our faith in the background through the rest of the week? At the end of Mass the priest often says ”Go out and love and serve the Lord.” I think that when we do not “go out” and live the faith during the week we will not accomplish the goal of increased spiritual fitness.
An ongoing journey through ongoing training
The process of physical rehabilitation can be viewed as an ongoing journey in that it does not involve a “quick fix”, the taking of a pill or following a program for just one month. Physical rehabilitation requires one to continue an exercise-training regimen the rest of one’s life in order to maintain physical functions. There is truth to the old adage “use it or lose it”.
An analogy may be made to devotional training for our ongoing faith journey. St Paul alludes to this in 1 Timothy 4: 7, 8.
Avoid profane and silly myths. Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future.
The question to ask is what are the ongoing training programs for maintaining and growing our spiritual functions? There are many. Seeking opportunities to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy is a good place to start. Maintaining a daily prayer life whether it be a Rosary, a Novena or personal prayer intentions helps to keep one in “spiritual” communication. Periodically practicing the three pillars of Lent (almsgiving, prayer and fasting) year round can provide a focus. I have found a daily reading pattern from written sources such as Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a multitude of spiritually oriented books to be of value.
There are all the Church sponsored resources such as Bible study courses, retreats, prayer vigils, Eucharistic adoration, family and youth ministry programs and of course daily Mass. There are the Knights of Columbus, altar societies and other service groups to get involved in The bottom line is that a lifelong habit of incorporating faith-based habits into daily life can aid in maintaining a spiritual fitness just as daily exercise helps maintain physical fitness.