A healthier spirit, body in 2018

Strong body, strong soul

By Father Zachary Miller

As we start off 2018, many people will have a common New Year’s resolution of being healthier. Often we don’t think of “being healthier” as including physical and spiritual health. These tips will focus on both.

   First, let’s turn to Scripture. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians directs us to see the parallels between faith and athletics: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1Cor 9:24-25). Don’t separate your spiritual life from your daily life; they are one and the same.

• Find balance. Take time to look at your day and examine your strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of your body. What is it telling you? Are you stressed? In need of changing something? “As we grow stronger, we will come upon new roadblocks on our journey, each one, requiring a renewed sense of vigor, [this] coincides with our spiritual lives” (Zimmerman 13).

• Set achievable goals. Often we find ourselves striving to get to the summit without being able to walk on level ground. When you start your new physical routine, set a goal that you can achieve. For example: Want to bench press 200 pounds? Focus on the first 50 and training in the proper form. The same goes for your spiritual life: Set a spiritual goal you can achieve. As an example, spend time in mediation. Start with 1 minute and increase it each week until you reach 10 minutes and keep that for a set amount of time.

• Love what you do. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength (see Deuteronomy 6:5). If we don’t love what we do, over time we won’t be doing it. Find a practice — of exercise and of prayer — that you enjoy.

• Make movements functional. One of the best things we can do to stay healthy is move. Think of what you do in your daily activities: standing, bending, walking. Believe it or not, these movements can function as exercise if intentionally paired to create moments of activity. Prayer also can be thought of in this way. “Functional prayers” — for  example the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be — can be paired with movements throughout the day and allow us to give praise to God and to see God at work in our daily lives.  

• Be a part of a community. Whether at the gym or at a parish, being part of a community will help to make your commitments last. It is not just about being accountable; the group will help to push you to new heights.

• Practice habitual grace. The more we create a habit out of our prayer, the more we will realize the Holy Spirit working in and through us. In exercising, if we create a habit that is positive and supported by others, the summit will be realized. Look toward the positive.

• Be flexible. The Christian spiritual life is always rooted in the Holy Spirit. The focus of our prayer and daily life is to be rooted in Jesus Christ. But there is no practice of personal prayer that is “better” than another; find what fits for you. Different types of prayer can lead us to Jesus. Just as in exercise we need to switch things up to confuse our muscle memory, different types of prayer allow for growth and development (Guinan 19).

• Be humble. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:10-12). Humility is a virtue and will help to keep you safe in prayer and in the gym. Being humble means knowing yourself and knowing how to keep yourself safe through good practice and good form. Those who show off often will get injured because they lost their focus.

• Eat healthy. My mom says you are what you eat. Clean eating can create energy, a positive attitude, and motivation to achieve more. This doesn’t mean that you won’t cheat once in a while; just know what you’re doing and don’t make every day a “cheat” day. Keep yourself focused. Remember that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. It feeds our souls and can create the same results as eating healthy earthly food. Allow the grace of the Eucharist to feed us physically and spiritually.

• Track your progress. Journaling will help you understand your likes and dislikes. It will also allow you to see your progress.

• Rest. Taking a day off isn’t doing nothing; it’s about allowing ourselves to rest. Our muscles and souls need rest. Focus on stretching to prepare your muscles or focus on the inner self to allow healing. Every day shouldn’t be a rest day, but we need rest in our routine because it allows for greater strength. “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen 2:2-3).

• Give praise to God for what you have achieved. “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts” (Ps 103:1-2).

   Take these 12 tips as tips — don’t try to move too fast through them. Physical or spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight. I encourage you not to give up and to praise God for what you have achieved, because in recognizing what we have done with God’s help, it will motivate us to achieve eternal glory.

   Follow me on my Instagram,
@fr_zachmiller, for monthly updates on these tips.  

   Father Zachary Miller is parochial vicar of Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville. A former member of the Army National Guard and the Vestal Volunteer Emergency Squad, he earned his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Buffalo before being ordained for the diocese in 2015. Father Miller says “keep a strong body to have a strong soul.”

Guinan, Michael D. To be human before God: insights from biblical spirituality.          

Zimmerer, Jared. Ten commandments of lifting weights.

Also read ‘De-clutter’ your soul