Conversion

I’ve been helping people get physically stronger for nearly eight years. In that time, I’ve gone through a lot of changes in how I teach others and how I train and care for my own body. I’ve watched my students learn and grow. I’ve seen my training program, change, evolve and it continues to do so.

Change is inevitable in all areas of our lives, and it can be good, but sometimes life hits us hard with any number of challenges in family, work and life. On top of that, we are aging and dealing with forms of physical suffering, such as injury, illness and infirmity. In our physical difficulties, we learn about the spiritual power of suffering with love and perseverance—and by God’s grace, we have an opportunity to grow spiritually and to develop more compassion for the hardships faced by others.

Spiritual conversion is similar in that changes occur in us that can be both uplifting and challenging. We may experience many conversions in our lifetime as God seeks to bring us closer to him to help us grow in holiness. Changes, both big in small, by the grace of God, can lift us up, lead us into darkness, move us into new ways of serving, living and doing for God and for others. The changes might surprise us, even frighten us a little, and we may, believe it or not, even have an occasional longing for some sins that we’ve left behind.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1989: “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.”

Sometimes conversion, or this movement away from sin and toward God, means we change how we use our resources, our time, our energy, and even the people we spend our time with. We might be called to simplify, to give more, to lead or to follow in new ways, to pray more, or to just be more. God works with us so personally that the path of conversion is not predictable nor is it ever universal.

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I look to the saints for wisdom on this journey of conversion which we pray continues throughout our lives here on earth. The saints are regular people who had many points of conversion in their lives and grew to great holiness by their gradual, yet eventual submission to God’s will.

Pope Saint John Paul II encourages us. “I plead with you! Never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

The fruit of conversion can in fact, be the gift of journeying more fully with and for others. Other times, it can be more of a dark and lonely road like St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced when God didn’t feel near to her — and so we rely on faith to keep moving forward without the clear light of His presence guiding us.

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In our physical journey, as in our spiritual journey, there will be changes, conversions, movements, big and small, good and not so good — I pray that we listen to our bodies and respond with prudent care — and more importantly, listen to God, accept and cooperate with his grace with a steely focus on the ultimate goal of eternal life.

St. Padre Pio knows well the struggles we face. “The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the heart of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

Interior Focus

One of the aspects of strength training that I really enjoy is executing a heavy barbell or kettlebell lift with careful, thoughtful, methodical precision. You are interiorly focused, especially if the weight you are lifting is near your maximum effort. You are not talking or laughing or thinking about what you have to do later that day. For that moment, you are laser-focused on the lift. You apply patient perseverance and trust your body to make a go at cracking the bar off the floor or heaving weight overhead.

Thinking, feeling, moving mindfully, and with perfect technique can be challenging especially if you haven’t developed an interior focus. New students often comment that the hardest part of lifting weights is the ability to think, feel and concentrate without distraction.

It can be like that in our prayer life as well. We might not be used to sitting in silence, interiorly focused, and waiting patiently for God to speak to us in our hearts. If we are able to quiet the mind, and ease out distractions, speaking to God and listening can be a transformative time of prayer.

Yet for many of us, that silent interior focus can be elusive.

So when I heard that Robert Cardinal Sarah, with Nicolas Diat, had written a book about silence, I felt drawn to it immediately. While I seek silence to pray, I often fight restlessness, so I sought inspiration and insight from Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Power of Silence. A sample:

“Without the moorings of silence, life is a depressing movement, a puny little boat, ceaselessly tossed by the violence of the waves. Silence is the outer wall that we must build in order to protect an interior ediface.” (pg. 68, paragraph 112)

This topic of silence and deeper interior focus is critical to a strong contemplative prayer life to grow closer to our Lord and illuminate God’s will for our lives. 

You probably agree that spending time in silence is counter-cultural; more than ever it can be challenging to find silence even in our own homes. Cardinal Sarah refers to this as the dictatorship of noise.

Back to our lifting example … when we lift heavy weights, the muscle fibers in our bodies change, grow and and over time we become physically stronger. We may not see the changes right away, but we know it’s happening as we progress to heavier weights. 

Similarly, our time in prayerful silence transforms our hearts even when we don't immediately see changes or feel any different. We trust that God’s grace is at work in us and that over time a strong interior prayer life will yield sweet fruit in our lives.

Living the Gospel in Athletics

St. John Paul II welcomed and addressed sports teams at athletic events all over the world throughout his many years as pope.

His words inspire and remind us that in athletics, as in every area of our lives, we are called to live the Gospel message. There is no ‘time off’ from being a Christian or trying to grow in virtue.

“Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to his Gospel.” -St. John Paul II

He viewed the playing field as an opportunity for educational and spiritual growth that helps to “build a more fraternal and united world; sport which contributes to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person.” -St. John Paul II

We learn a lot about ourselves in any athletic activity, whether recreational or competitive. The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is a gift that is to be respected body, mind and soul.

“Every care must be taken to protect the human body from any attack on its integrity, from any exploitation and from any idolatry.” - St. John Paul II

In a 2004 address, St. John Paul II reminds us that the playing field is a place to grow virtue. 

“The Christian can find sports helpful for developing the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance in the race for the wreath that is “imperishable,” as St. Paul writes.”

His words of encouragement to athletes often center on being a joyful, virtuous and humble role model who leads others by example. 

“I believe that we do not err to recognize in you this potential for civic and Christian virtues. In a world in which we often painfully recognize the presence of youth who are lifeless, marked by sadness and negative experiences, you can be for them, wise friends, expert guides and coaches, not only on the playing field, but also along those paths that lead to a finish line of the true values of life.” -St. John Paul II

By keeping the role of sport in the proper perspective, we can, as St. Paul said, "Glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:20).

“The body, according to Christian concept, deserves due interest, real respect, loving and wise care, invested as it is with natural dignity, capable of a mysterious sacrality and destined to ultimate victory over death itself, as our faith teaches us.” -St. John Paul II

Prayer Tracking

Wearable fitness trackers measure heart rate, number of steps, sleep patterns and the variety and intensity of exercise. These are popular and the information can be useful in helping build new healthy habits.

While this tool can make a difference in how much we exercise, and our approach to exercise, I like to take a break from technology when I’m exercising. 

In fact, I thrive on fitness freedom, and maybe you do too. 

Moving, lifting, and stretching is a sensory experience for me and a much-needed break from the phone, computer, iPad and television. I like the challenge of listening to my body and responding appropriately with varied movements and intensity without technology.

I like freedom in my prayer life as well.

There are plenty of books available about how to pray, methods to use to grow closer to God, and at certain points in our lives, those resources can be helpful, if not critical. But we know from Scripture, and wisdom of the saints, that methods of prayer are secondary to simply giving time to the Lord in prayer to grow in a loving friendship with him.

Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything. ~St. Theresa of Avila

How we feel called to pray can vary and the freedom to pray any way we’d like, anytime and anywhere, is a beautiful gift that reminds me just how personally God works with us.

While I’m not a fan of fitness trackers, I think it would be interesting to track how many times a day we think about God,  pray, read holy books, mediate on Scripture, pray the Rosary, offer an action or sacrifice to God, make a change in behavior due to a prompting from the Holy Spirit, fast, or give alms.

We are called to pray unceasingly, and even our desire to pray pleases God, so it would be interesting to see just how much time we spend with God daily compared to the other activities in our lives. Unlike fitness tracking, this type of information could be life-changing! So let's make prayer a priority in our daily lives.

Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love. ~St. Theresa of Avila

Prayer: The Keystone Habit

Time is a precious commodity especially during the Christmas season. I hear people say that their busy lives don’t allow them time to exercise.

It’s the same with our prayer lives. We may have the desire to pray, but we don’t know how to get started, we can’t seem to find time in our daily schedule, or people and activities seem to zap our time and energy.

Now is the time for us to dig deep, flex those spiritual muscles, and make time for prayer as a top-priority, healthy habit for the New Year.

Do you think ofprayer as a healthy habit? Do you consider prayer the most transformational habit in your life? 

Giving God time in prayer not only deepens our relationship with him, but helps us grow in virtue and can help us reorder our lives—and not just our spiritual lives, but every aspect of our lives.

In business training, we learned about the Keystone habits — these are are habits that lay the groundwork for developing even more practical habits that will ‘supercharge’ our lives and help us become ‘successful’ in business and in life. There are different lists out there, but here is a basic summary:

  1. Set goals
  2. Manage you time well
  3. Exercise
  4. Practice daily gratitude
  5. Learn a new skill

While these are effective habits, I would argue that Prayer is the Keystone habit that will lay the foundation for these five habits — and every other habit and activity in our lives. Through prayer, we learn to know ourselves better and to know ourselves through God. 

This enlightenment through prayer can change our behavior, clarify priorities, lead us to spending our free time in more meaningful ways, remove unhealthy attachments, connect us with people who inspire and encourage us, soften our hearts, bring us more peace, confidence, joy, love, wisdom, kindness, understanding, and so much more. 

The impact of prayer on our souls, and on the Body of Christ, is truly infinite!

“Give me a person of prayer, and such a one will be capable of accomplishing anything.”
~St. Vincent de Paul

Perseverance

Perseverance is a virtue that helps us get something done despite difficulties.

When we begin to exercise, perseverance is vital because there is a lot of learning that isn’t easy and it takes time for the body to acclimate to new movements. Building a new habit of regular exercise, on certain days and times each week, also requires a commitment to good time management.

I admire people who have persevered in the habit of exercise over many years. It is exciting to see how physically strong they become; I especially enjoy hearing how their perseverance in exercise has helped them build positive changes in other areas of their lives. 

It’s not surprising that commitment to one healthy habit can contribute to the practice of other healthy habits, such as setting aside daily prayer and spiritual reading time. getting plenty of sleep, de-stressing and seeking life/work balance.

Perseverance is vital for a healthy spiritual life. 

We know that St. Teresa of Kolkata persevered in prayer and service to Christ, and to the body of Christ, despite years of darkness in her prayer life. We hear stories about many of our saintly brothers and sisters who persevered through spiritual and physical hardships so severe that their stories read like adventure novels. They inspire us and give us a exciting examples of spiritual and physical strength.

One of my favorite stories of perseverance from sacred Scripture is the ‘shipwrecked’ passage from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26.

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”

We can pray for the grace to seize our St. Paul moments with hope and trust. Difficulties can shape and sharpen us when we look at them in light of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. Offering up our difficulties for the greater good, or for the good of someone we love, is a beautiful way to persevere through a hardship or challenge, no matter how severe.

May we aspire for the perseverance of St. Paul, 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Sport at the Service of the Spirit

Sport and physical culture can contribute to a better understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God and neighbor. The topic of sport has been addressed by many pontiffs including Pope Pius XII who made this statement entitled, Sport at the Service of the Spirit, July 29, 1945.

"Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses, gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator."

There are some phrases that stand out for me as someone who teaches physical skills to others and seeks to grow in holiness. I encourage you to pray about what stands out for you.

Courage: It takes courage to challenge the body and mind to explore new limits in a physical endeavor. Courage is also necessary to authentically live our Catholic faith in everyday life. Physical courage can help us develop the confidence to be courageous in living out our faith in the way God is calling us.

Gracious victor: It takes humility to be a gracious victor. Practicing humility in athletics can prepare our hearts and minds to be gracious, humble and hospitable to those people who challenge us at home, work and in our community.

Steels the will to endurance: Life on earth is a marathon, not a sprint. Learning to be physically strong can parallel our journey of growing spiritually strong. In both cases, we strive under the leadership of Jesus Christ who is with us in all endeavors. Cry out to the Holy Spirit for assistance when you, or your loved ones, are on the court, in the gym or pool, on the field, road, rink or trail.

Makes the mind itself a more refined instrument: One of the most powerful results of properly-directed physical activity is mental clarity. Physical activity can leave you feeling physically energized and mentally calm and clear-headed; this can help you focus in prayer, at work, and respond more patiently to the needs of others.

Service and praise of the Creator: If you are a faith-filled person who enjoys physical endeavors, you probably already praise God for the gift of your physical vitality. Ask him to guide you in caring for your body so you can continue to serve God and your neighbor with spiritual and physical vigor.

Moderation and Consistency

I heard a priest say recently that he does three things every day: pray, celebrate Mass and exercise.

The first two are obvious, but why exercise? 

He wants to keep his body and mind strong and healthy so he can vigorously serve his flock. 

Exercise, when done moderately and consistently, can be a wonderful way to increase our physical and mental energy to be God’s hands and feet in the world. Since diocesan priests are serving their parish 24/7, good health and physical vigor is truly a blessing.

It’s funny that the word Moderation can sometimes feel counter-cultural.

A few years ago, I posted ‘Moderation and Consistency are the Keys to Fitness’ on the whiteboard at my gym. 

One of our gym members strongly disagreed with this sentiment. He told me it sounded weak. His philosophy was to go all out all the time. Unfortunately, he had many former injuries from extreme exercise so maintaining the habit of moderate and consistent exercise proved to be challenging for him and he ended up quitting altogether. 

Unfortunately, our go-go-go culture can make us feel that we must always do more and push harder.

There are circumstances where extreme physical preparation might be necessary, for example, in the military and in law enforcement where your job is to protect and save lives. However, the average person will benefit greatly from doing most activities with Moderation and Consistency.

The principles of Moderation and Consistency can guide our spiritual lives as well. 

While we may desire to pray silently at home every day for an hour, that might not be compatible with how God is calling us to serve in our vocation. We might not start to pray at all until we have a full hour — but if you are like me, that might not happen very often! We can become discouraged and stop praying altogether, so setting realistic expectations is key.

At my weekly Holy Hour last week, I was distracted. I had a hard time praying, reading or even really being present to the Lord. So much was going on in my mind about family and work. I know that God sees and loves our desire to pray even when we do it imperfectly, so we have to keep trying.

Like the priest I mentioned who prays, celebrates Mass, and exercises daily, we can greatly benefit from maintaining healthy habits, in a spirit of Moderation and Consistency, to serve God and the people God places in our lives.

Adventure

I believe that most people who walk into the gym have a bit of an adventurous spirit. They might not know it at first, but they soon discover many new things about themselves as they start to lift weights and move in new ways. 

Some gym members tell me they were a little unsure at first. Others say exercise has helped them get to know themselves better. More than a few have said they never dreamed they would be doing this and that they are excited to see what’s around the corner.

I am very grateful for my gym members who trust me to keep them safe and to teach them a new skill. Life is an adventure and learning a sport can be an exciting part of that adventure.

However, I believe that our faith journey, with Jesus as our guide, is the greatest adventure of all. 

Our Catholic faith is rich and deep and gives us the opportunity for a lifetime of learning about God, ourselves and serving others.

This adventure with Jesus doesn’t require us to travel to faraway lands. St. Therese of Lisieux wanted to visit all five continents to share God’s love with others, but illness and death at age 24 didn’t allow her to leave the convent. Her adventure centered around prayer and a desire to grow in holiness in her daily life. She is patron saint of missionaries.

From Story or a Soul: “For me, prayer is an upward leap of the heart, an untroubled glance towards heaven, a cry of gratitude and love which I utter from the depths of sorrow as well as from the heights of joy.”

Growing closer to Jesus is an exciting adventure that might make us feel like my gym members expressed: a little unsure at first, learning about ourselves, doing things we never dreamed of and excited about what’s around the corner.

We don’t know how our daily adventure with Jesus will unfold, but we trust in His love for us and we know He is right there with us. 

A friend recently told me that she thanks God for every part of her daily adventure with Him — from the gentleness of a summer morning, to time spent with loved ones and even for little conveniences in everyday life.

The pursuit of a God-centered life is an incredible adventure. We might not know what’s coming next, but through faith we know we are in good hands.

Guest Post: Spiritual Fitness by Lisa Marino

It doesn’t take a doctoral degree to understand the poor health of our nation. Most can cite the rising incidence of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, let alone those we know affected by cancer and stroke. Yet, St. Mother Theresa of Kolkata, in her pure and holy wisdom, diagnosed the chief cause in 1975: spiritual poverty. 

“You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is.

“What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

Can you imagine? A simple woman living amongst the outcasts of society and the deathly ill for over 50 years. Sum up every cry she has heard, every wound she has touched, and every illness she has nursed and it still doesn’t even touch the sickness of our souls in the Western world. She once said, “It was easier to deal with poverty and death in India than the lack of spirituality in America.” 

I have no doubt most of you here are working towards a fitness or health goal- awesome! Keep it up! Always remember our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and we are made to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor 6: 19-20).  Being physically fit gives us the energy to work, to care for our family and friends, and to share the Good News with vigor.

So my question for you becomes: How much do you work out your soul? Not that this can be quantified by time or reps, but how is your living relationship with God? Have you stretched yourself to remain devoted to prayer, Eucharistic adoration, daily mass, confession, or a bible study? Spiritual fitness requires daily training even more than diet and exercise demand of us. 

The fruits of being physically fit are obvious: health, energy, confidence, and must I say appearance. The fruits of being spiritually fit are a bit more elusive. Yet I would argue they are infinitely more desirable than we care to admit: happiness, hope, mercy, love, purity, obedience, and peace to name just a few. Our souls are made to be refined like gold by fire, taking “feel the burn” to a whole new level (1 Peter 1:7). For the true journey we are on, my friends, is to be fit for heaven. 

Lisa Marino, PT, DPT

Warmup or Workout?

Originally published in The Catholic Times, May, 2016.

People often ask me how to warm up and if warming up is really necessary before exercising. The answer is a resounding yes because it is important to stimulate and prepare the muscles before you challenge them to do intense work. 

There are many ways to warm up, but generally we prefer dynamic movement to get the entire body moving. Warmup also helps people tune in to how their body is feeling that day to help prevent tightnesses and injuries.

Typically, warmup flows naturally into the workout. Sometimes I am asked whether a movement is still part of warmup or if we’ve crossed into the workout. That makes me smile.

We lift the heaviest weight at the end of class when we are really warm and have slowly increased how much weight we are lifting. People think they will be stronger when they are fresh at the beginning of the workout. Surprisingly no. It is unsafe to attempt to lift heavy without a gentle progression of lifting heavier weights while listening to your body. 

Warming up is also necessary for us as followers of Jesus Christ. 

I consider a spiritual warmup to be some form of prayer and study. Listening and asking in prayer and reading the Word of God can help prepare our hearts and minds to know how Jesus is calling us to serve others and take action in our everyday lives.

I have found that without the spiritual warmup of prayer and study, it can be easy to get off course in our actions. Since God works so individually with us, there is no prescribed warmup. We can approach prayer and study by asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit, staying close to the Sacraments, and reading the Bible. We may also be inspired by other books, music, art, nature, and spending time with people who challenge us to be holy.

Warming up those spiritual muscles before taking action will hopefully increase our self-knowledge and direction. The spiritual warmup and workout should flow naturally in and out of each other with a balance of prayer, study and action.

This cycle should never stop. Ideally, we exercise our physical and spiritual muscles on a regular basis. We warm up and work out to challenge our muscles to get stronger to support our health. We warm up spiritually with prayer and study to prepare us to move into action by serving others in our homes, churches and communities.

Weaknesses

Originally published in the Catholic Times, April 24, 2016

One of my tasks as a strength coach is to help people identify physically weak areas of their bodies and then put them on the path to strengthening those weaknesses.

For example, single-leg balance is often challenging, but important to practice as this is helpful in daily life. We work on mobilizing the foot and ankle, activating the muscles in the leg that is off the ground, rooting the foot supporting the body, and so on, to increase stability and strength for improved balance.

As long as there is no medical issue, and with patient practice and good technique, balance typically improves. Where there was once weakness, there is now strength that can be developed further with more repetitions or by adding weight to the movement. 

Usually it’s more fun to work on movements we are already good at rather than addressing our weaknesses. That’s our human nature. But we’re only as strong as our weakest links. If we ignore our weak links, it can limit our development and even put us at risk for injury.

This is not unlike addressing weaknesses in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we are lucky enough to work with a spiritual director, who is a coach of sorts, to help identify, guide and strengthen us in those areas where we are weak, unsure or maybe even unaware that there is an issue in our spiritual lives.

Our spiritual weak links might be holding us back from a deeper relationship with Jesus and maybe even with our family and friends. It may make us hesitant to serve our Church, community, and those who are less fortunate than us. It may make us less open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives. We might miss the joy God desires for us.

We can ask God to show us how and where we can grow spiritually stronger. He may show us in surprising ways.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, waits patiently for us to ask, listen, and respond, each in our own way, to what He is calling us to do. We know that He loves us beyond measure, even with all of our weaknesses. Our most generous God can turn our weaknesses into strengths when we cooperate with His will.

Lord, grant me the humility to see where I am weak and help me to cooperate with your grace so that I can grow into the person you have created me to be. Amen.

A Masterpiece of His Creative Work

Originally published in The Catholic Times, March 24, 2016

When I made the career change from Marketing to Fitness five years ago, I knew I was entering a field that had a focus on how the body looks. 

However, my intent as a strength and movement coach was to help people become more functional with strength and movement, more range of motion in joints and improved cardiovascular endurance. 

What we do in the gym is designed to support what we do in our daily lives so we practice reaching, bending, lifting and carrying to develop more grace, ease, mobility, stability and strength for everyday tasks.

I had to be honest with people. The focus for us is on moving well and getting stronger, not on changing how the body looks. Many people don’t realize that how the body looks is 70-80% what we eat and how much we eat. It is also impacted by genetics, lifestyle and activity level. 

It has been exciting to watch people come into the gym with aesthetic goals begin to develop functional goals. This may include improved balance, getting up and down off the floor with ease, lifting and carrying heavy weights, doing pull-ups, pushups, jumping on a box, or pushing something heavy.

Some of the physical changes they see right away are not what they expected; they have more energy, improved mental clarity, feel happier and sleep better. Their musculature does change too, but it takes consistent, moderate and patient training over months and years.

I am always encouraged by what St. John Paul II said and wrote about the human body and spirit as it relates to athletics with the potential for character development and improved self-knowledge.

“Sport, as you well know, is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body; it demands use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will. It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit. Athletic activity can help every man and woman to recall that moment when God the Creator gave origin to the human person, the masterpiece of his creative work.”

Please share St. John Paul II’s powerful sentiment with others because it could be life-changing for someone you love. Thanks be to God for the holy wisdom of the saints!

JOHN PAUL II, Address to participants of Athletic Championship: Be examples of human virtues, “L’Osservatore Romano” Weekly English Edition, n. 36, September 7, 1987, 5.

Always and Everywhere

Originally published in the Catholic Times, Feb. 28, 2106.

A few weeks ago, I had only one student for my evening strength class. I was a little disappointed that more people didn’t make it to class, even though I understand that work, traffic, family plans or simply being tired after working all day can make it hard for people to make it to class.

However, this turned out to be a great opportunity for me to work one-to-one with this student on his weight-lifting technique. 

I ended up training as well because it makes it more fun for the student, and it can be helpful, especially if the student is a visual learner.

We had a great time challenging each other to moving well and lifting strong. 

Our conversation shifted from training to a new topic when the student revealed a struggle he/she was having in daily life. I listened and offered encouraging words. I felt blessed to know this student who has been working to develop new healthy habits over the past few months. 

By the end of class, we were both feeling energized from talking, laughing and training.

As I was driving home, I said a little prayer for my student. Life can be hard and praying for each other is so powerful. I am really proud of my student’s progress inside and outside the gym; I prayed that this child of God will continue to be strong and active in his/her faith in daily life.

I started thinking about how God felt so present to me, through this student, in the gym while we were training. I am always a little surprised that God’s presence is so clear to me in my workplace -- in the middle of what I do every day.

But why not? God is always and everywhere -- which surely means he is where we are in the midst of our ordinary activities. How often do I miss seeing him because I am too busy? 

The one-to-one time with my student was an important reminder to me that God reaches us through the people and events in our daily lives just as powerfully as he does in our quiet prayer time. But if we are moving too fast, we’ll surely miss the little miracles.

I see in my neighbor the Person of Jesus Christ. - St. Gerard Majella

Blessed Frassati Inspires Us to Be Holy and Healthy

I first discovered Bl. Pier Giorgio Michelangelo Frassati when I was working with the Office of Vocations. I thought the image of him would be perfect as the banner on this blog because he was a model of prayer, active in service to others and enjoyed being physically active.

He is known as athletic and courageous. His early death (age 24) from poliomyelitis was thought to be contracted from the sick who he lovingly ministered to. 

Read Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati's full biography here.

One of the hobbies he enjoyed most was mountain-climbing and he used this as a time to share his faith with friends on the mountainside with him. 

What wealth it is to be in good health, as we are! But we have the duty of putting our health at the service of those who do not have it. To act otherwise would be to betray that gift of God.
— Blessed Pier Giogio Frassati

He was beatified in 1990 by Saint Pope John Paul II and named "The Man of the Eight Beatitudes," He was known to teach that holiness is attainable for all of us. Saint Pope John Paul II mentioned that Bl. Pier Giorgio was an influence in his life.

He is an inspirational saint on many levels, but what I find so interesting about him is that his athleticism aided his apostolate. In fact, it allowed him to reach individuals who might not have been openly seeking to understand their faith and grow in holiness.

We know that God is always working in our daily activities and sometimes the most surprising opportunities present themselves for us to share how Jesus is working in our own lives. 

I envision Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and his young friends  climbing and talking about life, religion, dreams, and laughing and sharing their joys and struggles. 

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati is an example of keeping a healthy (moderate) perspective on the role of athletics in our lives; he was also involved in music, theater, but his main focus of his life was ministering to the sick.

Today it can seem like our entire culture centers around athletics, sporting events, competition and winning. Bl. Frassati reminds us that sport is meant to enjoyed, shared and can play an important, but limited, role in a healthy and balanced life.

Lent is a wonderful time to pray about being overly attached to an activity to the point where something healthy, can become unhealthy.

Athletics are wonderful, and challenge us to develop self-discipline, motivation, courage and other attributes that can serve us well in other areas of our lives. We learn so much about ourselves and others through athletic endeavors.  

I will write more this topic in future blog posts relying on the wisdom from Saint Pope John Paul II who wrote and spoke extensively about the influence of athletics in our lives.

Praying for His Strength,

Lori