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The Incarnational Truth Behind Fitness

We live in a world full of symbols. We see them everywhere. I can honestly say that there is a stop sign at both ends of the street I live on, just to indicate the meaning of “Stop!” Even then, the message is not always received…unfortunately.  

So, what is a symbol, how are they used in the Church, and what does this mean about the human person and fitness?

First, the word symbol is defined in the dictionary as something visible or tangible that reminds us of and is able to put us in touch with a reality that is invisible and intangible, but still real and communicates an effective emotional and spiritual meaning. For example, if I were to ask you to show me the number three you would probably give me three fingers, or maybe write the numerical symbol we use for the number three (3). Until we put up the three fingers or write out the number three it remains invisible or an abstract concept. Thanks to the symbols we use to represent the number three, the number three becomes tangible and visible to us.

The Catholic faith is no stranger to the concept of symbols. In fact, as Catholics we thrive on the invisible and visible realities in our world. The most effective way it has done so is through our sacramental reality from the very beginning of creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, God says, “Let us make man in our own image and likeness.” God created humankind in His own image. He created this human person with an invisible and visible reality. The invisible being the soul, while the visible complement is the body. Because of the soul, we have an innate desire to seek out God, search for meaning, and even recognize the hand of God in the good, true and beauty of creation. This invisible reality becomes tangible through the material reality that surrounds us. As a result, the existence of the human person is part of that reality.  

Jesus fulfills this truth in the event of His incarnation. In Jesus the invisible God becomes fully visible to us, and enables us to grow in our knowledge of God through our own human nature.  In the person of Jesus, God finally has a physical face.  

We have images of Christ smiling, we know He felt anger, and even sadness. All emotions of God that became explicit through the person of Jesus.  

The mystery of the Incarnation continues today. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us still dwells among us and He does so through each and every one of us. This is confirmed in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). In other words, it is through the work of our hands, the steps we take with our feet, our ears to listen, and even the simple smile that comes off our face through which others can experience Christ’s loving and healing presence through us.  

In my time working in hospice ministry, hospital ministry, and even personal experiences, I gained clarity of the human person body and soul. I discovered the integration of the two and how when one of those aspects of the person was suffering, it affects the whole person.  

Combining the knowledge of incarnational spirituality and human experiences elevated my passion for fitness.  

People come to me with the desire to improve their health, solely for the purpose of living a healthy life. This may involve losing weight, developing strength, or even alleviating the aches and pains from stiff muscles due to the effects of stress in their current situation. Recognizing this need, I have found the fitness world to be the place God is calling me to evangelize. Just as our interior life has a way of presenting itself through the aches and pains of the body, the alternative can be true.  

For example, when a mother loses the ability to effectively move her body whether it be from a broken bone, arthritis, or other chronic illness, it provokes thoughts and emotions that can affect the way she wants to live her life. The struggles of holding her child, cooking dinner, and even keeping the house clean can have her questioning her value as a mother, leading to emotions of overwhelm and inadequacy. She may even question God’s motives or presence in her life.

It is clear Jesus acknowledged this in just about all His healing miracles. He didn’t just heal people spiritually. He healed them physically as well.  

Fitness plays a role in this integration of the human person. It can do so by enabling a mother to cook dinner for the family with limited aches and pains in her joints. It can give her the energy to clean the house before the in-laws arrive. In addition, she can learn to listen to her tired body and busy mind to discover the value of slowing down to rest and be present to our Lord.

Fitness not only provides physical benefits, but also a profound spiritual well-being.

Ultimately, it integrates a sound mind and sound body on the way to eternal happiness!