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.

Community

I attended two beautiful weddings recently and this reminded me of the importance of our community of loved ones, both family and friends, that care, guide, challenge and support us through the everyday joys and challenges of life. Our community of loved ones is our front line, our village that is ready to do whatever we need whenever we need it.

It might seem like an odd comparison, but people join a gym to be part of a community too. They depend on the coach and other exercise enthusiasts with similar goals to guide, care, challenge and support them on their journey to improved health and strength. Some might have started out doing it on their own at home, then discovered that it can be more fun and rewarding to learn, practice and train in a group that pushes them to levels they might not explore or achieve on their own.

It’s the same with our spiritual lives. Our brothers and sisters in Christ guide, care, challenge and support us in different ways as we seek to grow closer to Jesus and to know him better. Those who know us best, and love us the most, are often how God speaks to us about the direction and priorities in our lives. 

In my own life, my husband Al has often been one who can help me discern whether something is my will or God’s will. It’s a gift to have those people in our lives who help us to stay on the road to holiness. The fewer detours the better!

Because we are generally social creatures, we may gravitate toward groups almost naturally in different areas of our lives — especially our spiritual lives. Sometimes it might be tempting to to stay safely enfolded in prayer in the quiet of our homes even when we know that praying in community, authentically sharing our spiritual struggles with others, learning from one another on retreats, and serving in ministry can be special opportunities for spiritual growth.

There is perhaps no one more more aware of our need for each other than St. Teresa of Calcutta. She enjoyed the company of her Sisters immensely. She spent private time in prayer daily before the Blessed Sacrament. She gave her life to public ministry. She reminds us that we’re all called to care for others, wherever we are in our lives, and it can be as simple as offering a smile and kind words:

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

Take a moment today to pray in gratitude for the communities you are part of and how they guide, care, challenge, support and love you.

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

Peace

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if it was normal in our culture to greet each other with, “Peace be with you!” instead of our standard, “Hi, how are you?”

It would be a wonderful reminder that Christ’s peace is always available to us and that we can offer Christ’s peace to others any time.

In Matthew 8:23-27, we hear the story of the storm that rocked the boat that contained the disciples and the sleeping Jesus. The disciples became frightened and awoke Jesus in a state of panic. Jesus reminded them to trust and assured them that God cares for all their needs — even if it isn’t in the way we expect or according to our timeline.

Truly turning our lives over to God requires a child-like trust that He will care for all of our needs, big and small.

Each of us will face periods of calm and storms in our lives. We can pray for the grace to be peaceful and remain trusting in God’s providence and fatherly care in good times and in hard times.

I remember a friend telling me a story about traveling to Italy and having her purse stolen in the airport as she prepared to return home. She said she thanked God for this and then went on to deal with the problem of having no passport— lots of time and inconvenience to be sure!

I was struck by her comment that she thanked God first! Of course she was not happy about the situation, but she remained calm, prayerful and trusted that somehow she would get home. She attended to the details that were required of her because trust in God doesn’t mean that we sit back, wait, and do nothing. She knew that Jesus was there with her and she did eventually return home.

Remaining peaceful in the midst of trying circumstances might not be easy, but as people of faith, we are equipped to persevere. We know that Jesus does not abandon us and His friendship brings us a peace that is not of this world.

Peace be with you!

Strength

Originally published in The Catholic Times, June, 2016.

Variations of the word ‘strength’ appear hundreds of times in the bible. I am especially moved when I read Scripture or hear the word ‘strength’ mentioned during the readings at Mass. References to strength move me to go deeper into prayer and reflection.

Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and he helps me.

The type of strength that I teach at the gym is physical strength, which is fleeting. I know that the strength that matters is the strength we receive in our relationship with God. Allowing His strength, which is love, to fill us up and then flow out of us in service to others is what we are called to do as Christians.

How many times a day do we remind ourselves that God is our true strength and that we can rely on Him in everything? We may know intellectually that His strength is always there for us, but how often do we actually ask for it?

Sometimes it’s difficult to discern when we are relying on God’s strength, by cooperating with His grace, and when we are relying on our own strength. Since we are free to cooperate (or not) with God’s will, there are probably times when we miss the signs that point in the direction God desires for us. His generous love for us means that even in our missteps, He is still there offering us His strength and guidance.

References to God’s strength in Scripture sometimes sound like we are preparing for battle — which we are — the battle for souls, the battle against evil, the battle to stay on our daily walk with Him.

Psalm 18:32 It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.

St. Paul the Apostle gained his spiritual strength from God. Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

St. Paul also reminds us that we need our brothers and sisters in Christ on this journey. For St. Paul, it was Sts. Timothy and Titus. 

Who is it your life? Maybe this is a good time to reconnect and strengthen friendships with other Christians who rely on God’s strength in their daily lives so you can help each other.

In closing, I offer you St. Paul’s encouraging words:

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

Humility and Confidence

 St. Teresa of Calcutta is the epitome of humility and confidence to be His hands and feet in the world..

St. Teresa of Calcutta is the epitome of humility and confidence to be His hands and feet in the world..

I begin this column asking the Holy Spirit to guide me; the topic of humility and confidence is currently on my heart, so I will share my thoughts with you.

We might view humility and confidence as opposites, but when we look at this through the eyes of faith, we see they work beautifully together in our lives of service to others.

By remaining close to Jesus in prayer, receiving the Sacraments, and asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that our gifts and talents, and even our desire to serve others, flows from our relationship with Jesus. All that we have is meant to be shared. We know that it takes great humility to live this authentically.

If we are rooted in humility, we can move forward in confidence doing His will. He needs us to be bold to be His hands and feet in the world—each in our unique way.

Sometimes His plans for us are not clear, so we discern the best we can and move forward with small steps. Acting with humility means we are willing to try, accept failure, adjust, and keep right on going!

I think about St. Paul’s confidence in Christ that resulted in him being shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned, exiled, flogged, starved, nearly drowned, robbed, slandered and stripped. Yet he persevered, with confidence, in his mission to share the word of God with as many people as possible.

St. Paul’s humility in Philippians 2:3–5 is a beautiful reminder for all of us.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.

How do we know if we are acting with humility and confidence in our daily lives? If we are feeling peace and joy that is good sign. We may see positive fruits from our labors. We might know through prayer or through the words of those whom we serve.

Jesus needs us to serve with both humility and confidence, in our homes, churches, businesses and communities. Are you ready to answer His call to you?

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.

Wonderfully Made

Originally published in the Catholic Times, Jan. 31, 2016.

"I praise you because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” Psalm 139:14.

This Scripture passage is on my mind a lot as I talk with people about ways to build new healthy habits in the new year.

The human body is an amazing gift from God. 

Sometimes, it can be easy to dwell on the things we don’t like about our physical bodies, and harder to be grateful for all that our bodies can do. The human body is amazing vessel for us to serve God and the people in our lives; to be his hands and feet in the world.

With 640 muscles, 600,000 miles of blood vessels, 300 million capillaries, 270 bones, and our incredibly complex brain, this magnificent gift is beyond comprehension. 

We can develop healthy habits to honor our body any time of the year. Here are 5 simple ways get started:

  • Move More - Prolonged periods of sitting can cause tightnesses in the back, legs, hips and shoulders. When we work at a computer, setting the alarm to remind us to get up and move every hour or so is invigorating! Moving our joints throughout the day and praising God for our ability to do so is a healthy practice. Mobilize the neck, shoulders, thoracic spine (middle back), elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles. Include your family in this fun activity.
     
  • Use Safe Technique - If we have a physical job, or enjoy physical hobbies, we should be careful how we move, reach, bend, lift, carry and stand with a load. We can use a hip hinge, for example, when we pick up something heavy off the floor, rather than shifting forward overloading our knees. Packing our shoulders and carrying heavy loads close to the body helps prevent harming the low back.
     
  • Flow 5 Minutes Every Day - 5 Minutes of gentle moving and stretching, and pairing this with our daily prayer time, is a great way get blood and nutrients flowing into your muscles and joints to prepare us mentally and physically for all that God is asking us to do that day.
     
  • Have Good Posture When Standing and Sitting - It is recommended to stand upright and align the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles for good posture to help prevent tightnesses, asymmetries, pain and injury. This also improves breathing capacity and heart function. When sitting, think 'heart up to heaven' with an upward chest instead of hunching forward over a phone or computer. A posture correction can also be a 'God pause' that reminds us to offer up  a little prayer thanking God for the many blessings in our day..
     
  • Practice Getting Up and Down Off the Floor - This skill is vital to independent living and helps prevent falls. We can enlist the help of a movement coach or medical professional to safely practice this skill to build strength and confidence in our bodies.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for help in developing healthy habits, practicing good self-care and for a spirit of gratefulness for being wonderfully made in His image and likeness.

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

Rest

 The Apostle John resting with Jesus at the Last Supper.

The Apostle John resting with Jesus at the Last Supper.

I love Sunday, but sometimes I feel a little guilty about resting. The Third Commandment asks us to rest on the Sabbath, and to keep it holy, but is this still relevant in our culture? 

Yes, of course, and perhaps more than ever, because so much is gained from rest -- even more now in our open 24/7, online, always open, technology-driven culture.

I don’t want Sunday to feel like the other days and I hope you feel that way too.

After Mass, I typically do peaceful things that I enjoy like reading, napping, praying, stretching, getting outdoors, and spending time with me family. 

I use author and speaker Matthew Kelly’s phrase ‘carefree timelessness’ in regard to Sunday activities. I want to enjoy the people and activities without too much focus on time and accomplishment.

So much good happens when we rest.

With our physical bodies, rest is a time for muscle repair and replenishment. Exercising our muscles causes little micro-tears in the muscle that allow it to grow and get stronger, but that can only occur when we rest.

Taking breaks from working, thinking, and doing, along with adequate sleep and stress management provide us with renewed energy and strength. This rest and activity cycle helps us to get stronger. 

Rest can also help us renew our spiritual lives. 

Caring for a family, working, volunteering and all the other wonderful activities that fill our week, while rewarding, can sometimes cause little ‘micro-tears’ in our spiritual lives. Rest can help provide a renewal of the heart and body and refreshes us spiritually and physically and gives us strength for the road ahead.

I depend on Sunday to be a reset where I can slow down, spend more time with the Lord, pray and be gentle to myself and those around me. When I am able to do this, I start the week with more calm and more Christ-centeredness and it helps me maintain healthy habits of prayer and action during the busier weekdays. 

Are you someone whose job requires you to work on Sunday? Thanks be to God for you as we need medical pros, police, fire, etc. to be there for us! Setting aside another day as your rest day is fine (I heard a priest share this advice.)

Rest can mean different things to you and to me. There is no clear definition of rest -- and that can make it challenging to live out. 

But Jesus is always inviting us to rest with him and He is waiting for us to jump into his arms and be renewed with his never-ending love.

Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

St. Peregrine

I recently had a melanoma removed that had formed on a mole on my leg. I've had several basal cell spots removed in the past, but this was my first melanoma (cancer.)

I was a competitive swimmer, swim coach, swim lesson teacher and a lifeguard as a teen. Every day of summer was spent at the pool. Unfortunately, we didn't know then what we know now about the dangers of sun exposure without sunscreen. 

If we only knew the precious treasure hidden in infirmities, we would receive them with the same joy with which we receive the greatest benefits, and we could bear them without ever complaining or showing signs of weariness.
— ~St. Vincent de Paul

When the mole biopsy came back, the nurse called me to schedule a minor in-office surgery to remove more tissue to make sure they got all of the cancerous cells. She was surprised how calm I was. It sounded manageable, but I think it was the reaction of others that affected me a little.

The word malignant melanoma -- the C word -- sounds scary. Believe me, I didn't take it lightly, but I felt very lucky that we caught it early and it could easily be addressed.

This happened at the start of Lent, so I saw this as a good offering and decided to dedicate my prayers for those who are fighting more serious cancer than my own and for their caregivers as well.

I prayed to be grateful for the blessings in my life and take this opportunity to grow closer to Jesus. I asked to see the good that comes out of something that our human minds perceive as bad.

I was very limited in how I could move and lift for awhile and I wouldn't be able to demo all the movements (no squats, high impact or ballistic kettlebells lifts) for my classes.  I wouldn't be able to train the way I normally do, so I had more time for prayer and spiritual reading.

Adjusting my training seemed like a small thing, and a good Lenten offering, but I struggled with it more mentally than physically.

There were a couple times when I moved in ways that didn't feel good, so I learned from that, adjusted, and moved forward more cautiously.

 St. Peregrine is the patron saint of persons with cancer.

St. Peregrine is the patron saint of persons with cancer.

I had to think of physical training as part of my healing, because my doctor still wanted me to  keep moving, but I had to do it with more humility.

I couldn't focus on how much, how often or how fast. So I slowed down, listened and adjusted. Thankfully, this practice has carried into my prayer life as well.

It has been a few weeks now and I am cleared to get back to normal training activity next week.

I have a new appreciation for the ability to move and be able to exercise at all -- and a new gratefulness for my faith, overall good health and for excellent doctors and caring family and friends. 

I know that I am still learning to see God in all things, but this experience has helped me be grow closer to Him this Lent and I am very grateful.

Columbus Catholic Women's Conference 2016

I was able to attend the Columbus Catholic Women's Conference yesterday. 

The theme was Mercy Changes Everything in line with Pope Francis' designation of this year as a Year of Mercy. The day started with all of us praying the Rosary and celebrating Mass with Bishop Campbell presiding.

There were four excellent speakers, music, Eucharistic Adoration with Exposition, Confession (40 priests!) and time for fellowship, shopping and eating.

I can sum up this day in one word: Hope.

There were nearly 3,000 women present from all over Ohio; this is the largest Catholic Women's Conference in the nation .

That gives me hope because that means that 3,000 women made this a priority in their lives and came to grow in their faith, share, learn and refill their spiritual tank to continue to be Cod's hands and feet in the world.

3,000 doesn't count the number of women who listened in on St. Gabriel Catholic Radio AM 820 or who streamed it live on the internet.

The Holy Spirit is working in these women's lives -- all in different, yet beautiful ways.

Today I feel strengthened and renewed to try to do God's will in my own life.

My husband Al will be attending the Columbus Catholic Men's Conference next weekend. I encourage you to share information about these annual conferences with family and friends.

Blessings, Lori

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