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  A Christian Faith Magazine June 2004, Volume 9, Issue 11  
Spiritual Fitness
Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci
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The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everyone wants to look good on the beach. Fitness paraphernalia for every muscle group are readily available. Exercise gurus assure us that our goals of looking like Mr. America or Miss Universe can be met. In spite of the panoply of wellness protocols, obesity is the bane of our current culture. Ignorance or medical circumstances often are not to blame for this unfortunate state of affairs, but a lack of will and perseverance is. Fitness is a lifetime endeavor. And this is true not only on the physical level, but also on the spiritual level.


Spiritual fitness is that happy condition of being in communion with the power of God's grace in one's soul. The result is a robust effort to serve and please God in thought, word, and deed daily. Sadly for many, this quest is too easily thwarted by the ever-present temptations that assault the weaknesses in human nature. The fervent resolve forged in the holy seasons of Christmas and Easter too often pale with the passage of time. As with the corporeal plane, one needs to sustain a spiritual exercise regimen. The Church provides an impressive array of faith-building practices - both communal and individual - for the believer to utilize. Essential to the strengthening of faith is a commitment to the Mass and the sacraments. In addition, the prayerful study of scripture, the recitation of the rosary, attending retreats, adoration of the Eucharist, prayer groups, spiritual reading (even on the internet!), as well as the many other parish-sponsored programs and personal forms of prayer offer splendid pathways to spiritual growth.

No aids to either physical or spiritual growth are of any value unless they are used. The key to attaining the most benefit from their use is good form. Anyone wishing to participate successfully in an individual or team sport needs to focus his or her mind, body, and spirit toward patiently developing the requisite skills. Through repetition and dogged determination, mastery of technique is acquired. Thus, in private or public worship, learning to become wholly engaged in the action places one in an atmosphere that invites God's presence. This total commitment is the good form and the proper technique of prayer.

The goal of physical exercise simply is not to look better, but to be fit, to function optimally, and to use one's strength for some good labor. The product of prayer is the person it forms. The holier (or spiritually healthier) one becomes the more Christ is made visible in word and act. While these ends are desirable, they are not achieved easily in the face of human weaknesses. How odd that with irrepressible passion and steeled purpose, human beings often pursue that which is detrimental to both spirit and body. The victory of virtue over vice, grace over sin, and good over evil is a persistent struggle. One has to want to win and that desire must override all others to the contrary. The jargon of the sports world puts it well: you must have game. These words from Andre Dubus provide an example of one man's notion of this effort, "William James says, in one of his essays… that if you don't have faith, just act like it anyway. You have to act the way you want to feel. I would say to a person, pray. Whether you feel it or not. Who cares about feelings? My wife was absolutely surprised when I told her I was getting up to go to daily Mass and I didn't feel like it. She said, 'Then why are you going?' I said, ' It has nothing to do with feeling. I go because I know it's a good thing.'"

Couch Potato

Don't be a couch potato spiritually. Exercise the grace from God that is uniquely yours. The world depends on you to make evident the power of your faith. Employ your spiritual prowess in enhancing the quality of life and in proclaiming, like a voice in the desert, the moral high road in the real world of every day existence. Years of neglect need not deter you from making progress now. God taught us never to consider ourselves unredeemable. Though our sins may have left us in bad shape spiritually, God is the great Personal Trainer. Do not fear to reveal how much God and you have accomplished in your spiritual life. You are not attempting to be holier than thou, just holier than your former self. Permit me to concur with all of those fitness experts and assure you that you can do it; you can become spiritually fit and give your gifts to the world in which you live. After all, a fine spiritual physique may inspire others to follow your lead. One never knows. Perhaps, while making your way along the shores of life, the angels may whistle at you.

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