Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pope Benedict's Resignation: Lessons for a Bodybuilder

   The resignation of our beloved Pontiff leaves many feelings and thoughts upon the faithful. Feelings of loss and sorrow mixed with an odd knowledge that somehow, through the grace that is given the Church, things are as they should be. There is little doubt that the decision was made from a solid foundational soul in deep prayer and reflection. Pope Benedict XVI's intellectual, philosophical and practical mind is beyond most mere mortals today, so I am most assured that the decision was not made lightly. There have been innumerable thoughts on the lessons that this move will teach us and the future generations. But as a bodybuilder I had to reflect upon what he can teach specifically to the Iron Warriors of the world.

  One of the most important and fascinating aspects of lifting weights is its ability to teach us who and what we are. It acts as a tangible philosophy, modeling a mirror into the soul and heart of who we are as human beings and as children of an Almighty God. The new Pope Emeritus left a lasting impression for the importance of consistent, increasing self-knowledge and constant appreciation of our strengths and weaknesses. It is as if Benedict XVI personally connected the dots between faith and reason. He engaged his philosophical mind in asking himself, Who am I? And then proceeded to relate that question with faith in Christ's words that hell will never prevail against Holy Mother Church. It was his constant search for higher truths and knowledge which led him to make his final decision that perhaps the Church might need, not necessarily a better Shepperd, but one that can physically adhere to the demands made on such a man.    

  As weightlifters, we can learn much from such an act of humility and self-knowledge. The Iron reaches into the heart of the practitioner and demands without any recompense that self-awareness and knowledge will come from this experience. Without this dimension of practicality, the Iron might seem useless to most. Yet, because of this analysis, the Iron reaches across all barriers of cultural difference. In quoting John Paul II he explains what we are trying to find in our search for truth. "Driven by the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their own self-realization." It is through knowing who we are that we find our role in this world and our role in properly evangelizing the culture. Benedict XVI knew after years of contemplation that he is now being called to evangelize through a life of prayer and a growing solitude with Christ.
   Pope Emeritus has personified what we bodybuilders should strive to be: humble, self-aware, willing to take the lead if so called, constantly growing towards a deeper relationship with the grace afforded our vocation. He will be missed in his leadership role, though I am sure that his new role in helping the faithful towards salvation will be incredibly effective and efficient. As bodybuilders let us see this man as a living patron. I encourage my readers to pick up his overflowing body of literary works, through reading such material we might grow closer to our goal of imitating its author. While he may not be a bodybuilder in the classic sense of the term, I can think of no one living who can teach us more.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Exercise and The Song of Songs

Many marital problems that have occurred throughout history come about because couples find out that they have 'nothing in common', no goal that they are striving for together. While the first and foremost goal that they should be striving for is to get their husband or wife to heaven, one of the issues is that they have no hobbies or anything to share. For example, my wife and I have very different interests. While our faith and our children are the best things that we can love and have in common, our physical and mental hobbies differ. She enjoys making small crafts and shopping, while I enjoy reading. She loves to bake while I love to grill. She enjoys chick-flicks while I enjoy 'cine'MAN'togrophy'. Many couples struggle to find the similarities between their individual, material interests. One thing that my wife and I have always had in common is our love of exercise. I have noticed alot of benefits a couple can experience that exercise can offer.

First, when both the man and woman exercise they both have something they want to achieve. Whether it be to lose a couple pounds or to gain strength the couple has something that they can help the other complete. Not only is there a common goal but there is someone right next to you cheering you on to be the best that you can be. It also creates a fun pursuit that each of you can challenge the other in. For example, my wife has always been able to run for long distances at a very good pace. I am more of a weightlifter and have never been one to run for miles on end. So, between the two of us we challenge one another to reach out and try the other's interest. Now both my wife and I run and lift weights. We rarely have the opportunity to work out or run together, but the overall goal is to help each other be in the best health possible, and what better way than to grow in health together. We men are meant to 'tend and keep the garden' given to us by God and our wives are meant to help us be the best spiritual and physical heads of our households, aside from a prayerful and sacramental marriage, exercise is one of the best things to help each other reach their God-given roles.

Secondly, our vows require us to look after our spouse's health. "In sickness and in health" was not suggesting that whether you want to be lazy or active or whether you want to eat pork rinds or salads is fine by your spouse. Being a child of God hands on the responsibility of taking care of our own health and when you said 'I do' you promised to keep your spouse in his or her best health as well. There is always a balance to be had when it comes to our diets and our activity levels, within right reason a person can stay in shape and keep their spouse in shape, decently easy. With a little help from the theological virtues you can both grow together in mind, body and soul. Fortitude will help when you want to be lazy. Temperance will help when you want to eat fast food every day. Justice will help a couple give each other the love and respect due to a creature of God. Prudence will help a couple find the right plan to achieve each other's goals.

Thirdly, I don't think any man or woman wants their partner to lose the physical attraction that originally brought them together. Men want their wives to feel safe when they are together and want them to know that no other person could harm her as long as she has her man. "His arms are rods of gold...His legs are pillars of alabaster..." - Song of Songs 5:14-15. Women want to feel attractive, they want their husbands eyes to light up when he sees her and to feel that he can always brag about his beautiful wife. "Oh Noble Daughter, your curving thighs like jewels, the product of skilled hands." - Song of Songs 7:2. The poetry of the Song of Songs is the poetry of the theology of the body, the beauty that we all contain should be something we are proud of and therefore should be kept and cared for as the prize that it is. Physical attraction is part of our human nature, we are called to look beautiful and handsome, but we are not called to put it out on display for all to see. A marriage is meant to allow a man and a woman to give all that they have to each other, especially their bodies, wouldn't you want to look the best for your spouse?

Today, stick figure women and muscle-bound freaks are shown as what a real man and woman are supposed to look like, but those are not what God originally intended. The different sizes and shapes of our bodies were given to us by a loving Creator and therefore should be treated as such. But, a woman should want to look feminine and a man masculine, these are our God-given roles. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to wrestle or play hide-and-go-seek with my sons. My wife and I can spend hours wrestling and play boxing with my boys and this truly brings us closer as a family, not to mention burns a decent amount of calories. There are all sorts of ways to get leaner or gain endurance, whether it be that after dinner walk together (an excellent opportunity to pray a rosary) or keeping each other's cravings under control (my wife and I found it very helpful that if one person has a right-before-bed-snack craving the other will say 'I won't if you won't', funny, but it works!) growing together physically is a great way to grow together spiritually. 'My Lover belongs to me and I to him' - Song of Songs 2:16

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Being Tested

In today's first reading, St. Paul writes to the Hebrews that because God Himself donned flesh, he has won the victory over evil. It was through Christ's physicality that He was able to be our Savior. Though God could have saved us in any way He wished, He decided to belittle Himself and become bone and flesh. This guides our minds to the mountain of knowledge of just how precious our bodies are. Not only did Christ humble Himself, but allowed His physical suffering for the betterment of mankind. Jesus put Himself to the test in order that we might know that no matter what we are going through, He understands. "Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."  (Heb 2:18) Christ's suffering is what has redeemed mankind, and it is through our voluntary suffering in which our bodies are able to join in His redeeming mission. Though our mission might be much different than His, our voluntary hours in the gym can be used for our mission of joining Christ in the fight. 

          In the second reading, taken from the Gospel of Mark, two specific instances really jump out at me. One being the continual spiritual combat in which our Lord engaged. Jesus drove out demons at the request of His apostles. The demons were not permitted to speak because they knew Who Jesus was. Though Satan and his minions might think that they have a fighting chance, just the name of Jesus shut their mouths, not out of respect but out of fear. Christ was a man of deep honor and virtue. Besides the fact that He was God Himself, who He was as a man scared the demons silent. So, the modern notion that Christ was a feel-good teacher Who only wants everyone to be happy could be put to shame based off of this one fact, Christ instilled fear into his enemies. Though we as bodybuilders should never have instilling fear or intimidating others as one of our goals, we should also not stray from the thought that our time in the weight room might very well be preparing us for the possibility of facing our enemies, whether spiritual or corporal. It is similar to a father's relationship with his future son-in-law: you must always be loving but that little crack of fear within that boy's heart could be a great thing for the marriage as a whole. The son-in-law will treat the daughter with respect, out of love for her and also out of respect for who she comes from. We men are made to be the protectors of God's creation and perhaps a little fear in those who mean to do evil, just might be healthy for everyone. 

        Also, following in the example of Christ, it was His suffering which gave us the ability to drive out our own inner demons. Be they addictions, vices or simply small weaknesses, Christ gives each of us the grace to overcome them. Weight lifting and fitness not only expounds that grace to its fullest potential but it also creates opportunities for more grace by voluntary suffering. 

        The second instance, which really drives home the previous points, is that Christ the morning after doing His good work, went out into a deserted place and prayed. He knew that in order to keep up His mission, solitary, heart-felt prayer must be a daily practice, even if the night before was hectic. We too, especially as bodybuilders, must find times when we can escape the noise and retreat into the Heart of God. Our prayer lives must be given just as much, if not profoundly more, attention than our fitness goals. Without a growing knowledge and love of Who our Savior is and who He wants us to be, we are like lost children moving the weight around with no purpose. Let us always reflect on Christ's power over our inner demons and allow Him to use our time in the weight room to His and our advantage so that we might repeat with Him in our own mission: "For this purpose have I come" (Mk 1:38)