Friday, December 14, 2012

St. John of the Cross and Fitness

             What can a saint like John of the Cross teach a bodybuilder? How can we thoroughly apply his teachings to our daily acts of fitness? John of the Cross was a profound thinker, poet and man. His writings have influenced the Church to such a degree that he was deemed Doctor of the Church in 1926. While most of his writings and poetry are focused purely on the state of the soul there is much for an athlete to learn from him. A quote, while rather lengthy, from his prolific work The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, reaches into the soul of what the new Catholic movement in the fitness world is all about. Before I delve into what I mean here, I will let you read it:

"For they think that it suffices to deny themselves worldly things without annihilating and purifying themselves of spiritual attachment. Wherefore it comes to pass that, when there presents itself to them any of this solid and perfect spirituality, consisting in the annihilation of all sweetness in God, in aridity, distaste and trial, which is the true spiritual cross, and the detachment of the spiritual poverty of Christ, they flee from it as from death, and seek only sweetness and delectable communion with God. This is not self-denial and detachment of spirit, but spiritual gluttony. Herein, spiritually, they become enemies of the Cross of Christ; for true spirituality seeks for God’s sake that which is distasteful rather than that which is delectable; and inclines itself rather to suffering than to consolation; and desires to go without all blessings for God’s sake rather than to possess them; and to endure aridity and afflictions rather than to enjoy sweet communications, knowing that this is to follow Christ and to deny oneself, and that the other is perchance to seek oneself in God, which is clean contrary to love."

            Here St. John of the Cross is explaining in explicit detail how a person can create crosses for himself, while good in itself, yet forget to detach himself from the want for spiritual supplication or spiritual attachment. He writes eloquently on that fact that the 'true spiritual cross' of authentic spiritual aridity, a gift from God, is that which truly unites us the the crucified Christ. Seeking only the 'sweetness and delectable communion with God' is, as he says, 'spiritual gluttony'. This applies so perfectly with the new fitness evangelization of today. While many might know that working out and eating right are good in and of themselves, it is not only to bring our bodies to perfection but train our wills to desire suffering and detachment. Though there will always be joy in the act of bodybuilding there must also be a spiritual search for pleasing God. Without this search the act of bodybuilding is only surface deep and thus unacceptable in the path of perfection.

         St. John of the Cross is calling us to a depth which few have tread. A depth of no desire for consolation or feelings of any kind. Almost inviting the 'Dark Night of the Soul' from God in order to love Him ever more. The fitness culture and the individual embracing it can take this ideal and apply it to his time in the weight room. While we voluntarily suffer for the greater mission of saving souls, we can also cry out to God and pray that we do not become selfish in desiring only the emotional comforts from the sweet and delectable fire of Love. We must desire that while always knowing through faith that God loves us, he will give and take those comforts as He pleases. It is in the act of surrendering our wills that we come to fruition in suffering for Christ. While regular workouts, refraining from sweets, eating for function rather than joy, and pushing through hard goals are all noble and sure ways to serve Christ, we must not miss the bigger picture of surrendering our wills, our actions, our very joys and sorrows to the will of God. This passage is not to downplay the salvific acts of mortification, rather it is to keep the soul operative away from the danger of performing those mortifcations solely for the pleasure we receive in the solaces of God.

        The deeper point of lifting weights and exercising is not to only build a fit instrument for the glory of God and to be used by God but instead is to search, without succor or relief, how to best find true union with the crucified Christ. Next time you are lifting, praise God for His goodness and mercy and let Him know that no matter what feelings of reprise or dryness we may feel the mission will continue. Pray for the grace that what we learn in the weight room will teach us to have the grit to move toward the end goal when the going gets tough. It is akin to lifting on a regular basis yet never seeing real progress but knowing that in the end, this dry period of no muscle growth will lead to bigger and better things. St. John of the Cross was a soulbuilder unlike most any other I have ever read. His insightfulness and talent of writing can bring a bodybuilder to the true heart of the fitness movement, that being Christ Himself.

Our Lady of Good Health, Pray for us!

Check out this video of Fr. Robert Barron and Fr. Steve Grunow about St. John of the Cross at his tomb on today's Word of Fire blog:

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