We hear a lot about physical fitness in the media. People seem to recognize the importance of a regular workout. I try to run for 15 minutes every day because it gives me more energy. But there is another kind of “workout” that is far more important. Unfortunately, it gets no press. There is no “Biggest Losers” TV show about spiritual fitness. But there should be. Those who neglect their prayer life may very well be “the biggest losers.”
Spiritual fitness is a process of tuning into the silence of the heart in order to connect with God. It’s not easy. I read somewhere that cultivating an interior life is “rarified air.” That image makes me think of a room that has been closed up for so long, even the air feels stale. Our world is so noisy and demanding, even a drive to the store isn’t quiet. The phone buzzes. The children squabble. The road signs blaze with messages. Quiet. Where do you find that?!
But that step of finding some quiet time is only opening the door of the gym. It’s the very basic first step. Lots of people open the door, but seem to change their minds and shut it again!
The real “exercise” begins in the quiet of the heart. And part of that exercise is to try and keep quiet on the inside. The mind is so full of chatter.
And talking to God isn’t easy because we have ignored Him for so much of lives. We’ve forgotten how to even get started. God seems at first to be very reclusive…actually, we are the ones who have tried to hide from Him. So it seems hard to start. We look to old prayers and they seem dry.
But that’s OK because God wants “us.” Not the stuff we like to put between us and God. The prayer practice of St. Teresa of Avila appeals to me. She tells us to call to mind an image of the life of Christ. Jesus with the children. Jesus healing the blind man. Jesus in the Garden, sweating blood. Jesus meeting His mother on the road to Calvary. Jesus meeting His disciples who don’t recognize Him after the Resurrection.
After we call to mind an image, we can reflect on what it means for us. Why is it important? What does it teach us about Jesus? Why did He come to earth, leaving behind His heavenly glory? We must seem pretty lowly to Him…and yet He loves us. And His love is not a collective, generalized “yes I love all of you.” His love is personal. He loves me in all my unworthiness. Wow!
Then we can praise Him. Thank Him. Love Him. After that it is time to be quiet in His presence. He is near. He is here. Be with Him.
I asked my son to try this and told him to see the word “Jesus” if he couldn’t see an image of Jesus. Eventually, what he saw was a blue flame. A flame of love, burning away everything else.
I tend to come back to the image of Jesus in the Garden. Because He was human, He knew fear. He knew the pain and the heavy load of sins that He would carry. And for a moment He may have wondered if there wasn’t someone else who could do this. Couldn’t it happen a different way? He gave this question to the Father. And then the load was lifted. There was peace. He surrendered to the Father’s will.
Peace. That’s the gift of Spiritual Fitness. The load is lifted. The burden is light because we are doing God’s will and God is lifting us up.
So, here’s the pitch for this fitness program: On the one hand there is the inevitability of Hell if we neglect God…And on the other hand, there is the great gift of peace that comes when we pay attention to Him!
Open the door…and begin. He is near.
By Judith Costello
All the feel good books are have titles about Soup for the Soul…stories meant to be warm and comforting, reassuring and easy to swallow. But this is Lent…time for a tougher look.
It’s time to consider how cancer grows in the Soul. Fr. Larry called sin a “cancer” last weekend. He said we should be able to diagnose this “sickness” just like we diagnose the physical stages of a spreading cancer. (This is my version of that concept.)
Stage 1: Unchecked Emotion.To Heck with Faith and Reason. I FEEL Bad—The modern world recognizes feelings over reason. I was thinking about this when I heard a young woman who whined between every meal, because she had decided to fast from between-meal snacking. Since she was used to snacking all the time, she felt grouchy. And no matter how much anyone pointed out the purpose of fasting and the value of discipline, she continued to punish everyone around her with her grouchiness.
It’s easy to see from the outside of this situation, that the purpose of fasting is defeated if we have to tell the world how hard it is! But the same thing happens to all of us and it’s not at all humorous. We are irritated and let it show. We feel envious and try not to show it at the moment. But then we gossip about that person later on.
Emotions are meant to be just the “garnish on the plate.” They add color but they should never be the main course! Unleashing our emotions, allowing them free reign, guarantees the spread of a cancer in the soul. The main course on the plate of our lives should be faith.
Faith requires self discipline in order for it to nourish us.
Stage 2: Rationalization.
Once the emotions go unchecked then the devil offers lots of easy rationalizations. One of the best rationalizations among church-goers is: “God loves us so of course he doesn’t want us to suffer. He certainly doesn’t care if we eat between meals. This whole fasting thing is just something made up by stuffy old guys.” I’ve heard it said. And I have to admit I used to use the “God is love, and a loving, nice-guy God wouldn’t expect this.” We have lost perspective.
It helped me when I started to really study the Catechism and prayer. Our job is to get to know God. And yes He is Love. But the love He demonstrates is all about sacrifice. Love is not easy. Love is not a feel good, chicken-soup thing. Love is the cross.
The season of Lent is a wake-up call about avoiding Stage 2 Cancer of the Soul.
Stage 3: The Blame Game.
Adam said, “It was Eve’s fault.” And Eve blamed it on the serpent. So I guess we can blame the “blame game” on our original parents! It is very easy to unload our responsibility. There is always an excuse.
Someone else led us here. Or it’s our upbringing. Or something someone else said caused this reaction.
But sin is sin. We are responsible for our actions and responsible for making a U-turn when Stage 3 Soul Cancer has taken over our lives.
Stage 4: From One Sin to Another.
Once the door to sin is open, sin snowballs. The tools of the first three stages are in place. Like physical cancer it now starts to take over in more severe ways. Excuses, desires and scapegoats provide the necessary equipment. Now it’s just a smooth ride of self-indulgence.
I’m sure that’s how people, who appear to be good, decent folks, end up stealing millions from an employer. All it takes is this—Never Tell the Truth. That person never admits to “stealing,” it’s only been a process of “re-directing.” It is not “lying” it’s “telling a different truth.”
Stage 4 Soul Cancer can be fatal. Once this sin cancer begins to grow, the road to health is a battle.
But there is good news. The Savior came for just such souls.
Now is the time. Today is the day. Resolve to make the Lent a time for these things:
• Truth Telling
• Personal Responsibility
• Confession and Sacraments
• and a Renewal of Faith.