Thursday, September 20, 2012

Iron Philosophy: Endurance

          Near the end of St. Paul's extraordinary life he gave these words: 'I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.' (2 Tim. 4:7) The message of which deigns the virtue of endurance. Earlier in the same chapter St. Paul also states, 'be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient' (2 Tim. 4:2) which resonates quite well with the world of bodybuilding and strength gaining. In a world where 90% of those wishing to grow healthier quit their routine or diet within 2 weeks, endurance of body will surely educate us on the endurance of the soul.

          The battle to be a faithful Catholic is a daily renunciation of our own wills in order to better understand and unite them with the omniscient will of God, our Father. Due to original sin and the very real and human aspect of concupiscence, our natural tendency to break the laws of God, our wills are too weak to withstand the temptations of the world without the unending grace of a loving Creator. For those struggling with particular sins of greed, anger, sloth, lust or just about any other thoroughly ingrained aspect of our selfish, secularist culture, a solid swap across the back of the head from the Iron might be just what the doctor ordered. The Iron can act as a tangible creed, vowing to never surrender whatever life might throw at you. On the battlefield of sweat there is no middle ground, either you endure and keep moving or you lose.

        Holy endurance demands that the soul continue the fight, or as St. Paul selected the race, with a smile and resolve worthy of heaven. The continual struggle to keep your conscience, and more importantly your soul, gleaming with grace will not accept cowardice. 'For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.'  (2 Tim. 1:7) In the weight room that same spirit of power and love is what keeps us moving. Some days we might wake up and think, 'Why continue? Isn't this all for naught?' but it is the redeeming value of endurance which ignites the fire within us to keep hitting the weights, and to eat tuna and broccoli yet again. That fire, unquenchable in it's journey, is the Most Holy Spirit reminding you that, 'You are a created, loved human being and YOUR LIFE HAS VALUE! Keep moving, keep striving for perfection to honor your Creator!'

      In times of peril it is endurance which wins each battle and ultimately leads to a victorious war. In the weight room it is endurance to complete each set, rep after rep, day after day, which leads to better health, a more ascetic spirituality and the wherewithal to face the challenges in life like a soldier.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Iron Philosophy: Intensity


This is to be the first post of what I am calling 'Iron Philosophy'. Why call it that you might ask. Well in my experience the 'Iron' or the unforgiving steel which can smack you around teaches us much about life, and if philosophy is the discovery of a meaning in life then the Iron has a few lessons to offer. Thus these postings will be considered an academy of muscle.

           Revelation 3:16 tells us that, "Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth." What this says to me is that if you live without passion, without a goal or purpose worth dying for, you are unworthy of the Body of believers. For a human body to vomit there must be an organism or bacteria within which the body is forced to reject, causing nausea and the act of 'puking'. So, in other words, Revelation is stating that a soul without intensity, whether for good or evil, is incapable of working with and for the rest of the body. I say 'for good or evil' because Christ can work with those who are his enemies, he would just need to steer the passion in the correct direction, as seen in the conversion of Saul to St. Paul. Flim-flamsiness or weakness of heart is seen as worse than direct evil. So what can the Iron teach us about living, breathing and dying intensely?

         Anyone who has put their body weight on a steel bar and lifted it directly over his face and then lowered it down onto his chest (bench press) might be able to tell you a thing or two about intensity. Without a passion for what is going on in the weight room there are two options, quitting or getting hurt, neither of which I suggest. It takes a moment of rage to be able to move that kind of weight several times. That rage comes from the heart of the person lifting. Whether it evolves from stress, anger or happiness being in the presence of such intensity is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The beauty of the Iron is that it creates a momentary focusing of all your problems and gives it a safe and healthy environment to express itself. Intensity will automatically flow from a situation of life or death.

         At the heart of intensity lies desire. Whether it be a desire for physical strength or holiness it takes hunger to reach the upper limits of human intensity. The saints have all had intensity, expressed individually through their own characteristics and interests, but don't kid yourself and think that jolly Ole' Nick or St. Teresa of Avila weren't intense. The many martyrs of our Faith donned intensity as an everyday need. For many it took years of inflaming that passion with the never-ending love of God to withstand the tortures of evil. Intensity of soul is likened to putting 1,000 pounds on your back and squatting down, it may sound more like insanity to most but to those in the grimy battle of growing in strength, this feat is something to be revered. Saving souls and spreading the Gospel takes this kind of intensity. 

         History remembers those who lived life to the fullest and the Iron can teach us, like a Socrates to the Catholic Church's Thomas Aquinas, about creating and keeping that God-given heart of a lion within all of us.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Muscular Catholicism: Strong Arm of The Church

           In the past year or two I have had the incredible opportunity to meet some of the most amazing men in the Catholic world today. All with their own talents and passions but two things unite every single one of us, that being the love of the unforgiving, unrelenting, beautiful Iron and the all-encompassing, ever-loving, masculine Catholic Church. Though many might misunderstand the world of sweat and muscle, these men have an unspoken bond, a cohesive vision of what it means to desire perfection. Crying out to those within and out of The Church to appreciate their health while never pointing finger at those who don't. Creating a motivational arm of our Faith in which those God brings into their lives extract the passion to live life to the fullest. These men are not afraid of their masculinity, instead they embrace it with divine, reckless abandon. They see their time in the weight room as a just and rightful extension of their ever growing knowledge of our Lord and a deepening of their spiritual lives. These men veritably want to be the superheroes they grew up watching, the heroes whose might and muscles were as large and strong as their characters. 

           One of the most interesting aspects of our visits was how quickly a deep friendship grew. One of the beauties of our Catholic Faith is that it unites those from different backgrounds into one, common people, never leaving their culture or interests behind but intertwining the truths of The Faith within their own selves. So I know that a large factor in these growing friendships was due to our love of Christ and His Church. Though I must admit that I have met many others who are just as devout yet the authentic coalition didn't delve as deeply. When diving into the difference of these new acquaintances and many of the others that I have met I realized that between our love of Catholicism and our love of the Iron there was an instant esteem and respect for one another on a level that usually takes men years to create. I firmly believe that our union of blood, sweat and tears for Christ and the bodies He granted us with, allowed for instantaneous harmony of wills. We all understand what internal warfare is and love the truly Catholic ideals of sacrifice, devotion and dedication. The harsh conditions of calloused hands and sore muscles united us as brothers in warfare. Each of them with their own talents, backgrounds, and stories yet the passion for health and fitness united us eternally.

         My friend Kevin Vost, whom I have never had face-to-face time with but have had several conversations over the phone and e-mail, is a Mensa society, ex-atheist, with a passion for The Church, philosophy, the power of the mind and deep theological thought. When I asked him if he would be willing to write a foreword for my book he barely hesitated and the rest is history. He has had first hand experience with the great Mike Mentzer and has a wealth of experience and knowledge about the human body and its capacities. An inspiring renaissance man of today, Kevin has been spreading the message of fitness for many years.

         Fr.  Rafael Capo, who I had the pleasure of working out with, is a Piarist priest dedicated to the Hispanic mission through the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI). He is a lifetime bodybuilder and trains with some of the men competing on stage in Miami. Our long conversation was riddled with the beauty of training and why the message of faith and fitness must grow in the Catholic world. Willing and able to talk theology with anyone, his massive presence alone generates respect by those in the gym. Built like the Hulk but profoundly gentle in nature I am convinced that his witness effects many.  

         Fr. Steve Grunow of Word on Fire Ministries, a man after Christ's own heart, is a devoted fitness guru convinced that physical exercise can change lives. He and I competed in a historical death match in the guise of pull-ups and chin-ups, soon to be viewed by the masses thanks to the amazing team over at Word on Fire. Speaking with him and being blessed with a private Mass in his hotel room impacted me deeply. His profound wisdom and deep holiness has made him into a St. Bernard of Clairvaux for the 21st century.

        Lastly, my most recent acquaintance was Matt Gordon, a self-supporting Benedictine Oblate Hermit. Also known as Brother Donkey, a name chosen for laughs and seriousness, he is a man among men. He has a history of professional wrestling from which the fire and passion can be seen gleaming in his eyes as we discussed many topics, ranging from good literature to Thomas Aquinas to the many different martial arts around the world. Benedictine in spirit and personality but a hardcore crusader at heart, Matt personifies grace and strength.  

       Thanks to Divine Providence I was blessed and honored to be associated with these men. They are inspiring and motivating, each with their own talents and gifts but one congealed passion. A passion for Truth and strength. These men have sacrifice for breakfast and dedication for dinner.

Who motivates you to hit the gym and to grow in your relationship with Christ? 
Leave a comment below with your answer.
- A winner will be chosen at random for a free, signed copy of my book 'The Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights'