The Resurrection of our Bodies
Last summer I had the privilege of speaking at all of the family fests at The Apostolate for Family Consecration (AFC) in Bloomingdale, Ohio. For me and my family, it was experiencing a renaissance of an apostolate whose message to the world now has greater relevance than ever. As a speaker traveling much that summer both in the United States and even to the Philippines, I was keenly aware of the physical exertion these events had on me. Hence, the importance of doing all I can to be healthy so that I can be, as St. Maximilian Kolbe prayed, “a fit instrument in the hands of the Immaculate”.
So, how relieved I was when the President of the AFC invited me to use the private AFC gym. Being able to clear my mind and give my body fresh energy through hard exercise was such a gift. As he gave me a tour of this facility (and it is rather large), my eyes immediately went to a large banner of a robust and in-control Socrates (469 – 399 BC) in his final moments before willingly drinking the hemlock issued as his form of execution. Above which were his words: “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training . . . what a disgrace it is for man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” I then looked on another wall of the gym and saw words of similar but deeper meaning on another large banner: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” These are the famous words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d. c.202).
In this facility there were not images of angels to inspire me, but of fully alive men and wisdom from both pre-Christian and Christian worlds pointing to something beautiful and revealing about man in his body. This was not an invitation to vanity or narcissism, but to what was the thrust behind St. John Paul II’s 129 weekly Wednesday audience lectures that became known as the Theology of the Body—that man (male and female) is created in the image of God and that image, therefore, is stamped into our very bodies. We can understand therefore why St. Paul used the body as one of his primary analogies to describe the nature and mission of the Church. He also preferred the analogy of the athlete and its disciplining of the body so that it is fit to run and win the race (eternal happiness in heaven).
Too often, we Catholics fall unknowingly into a dualism that the Church has long battled and condemned where the body is seen as something in opposition to the spirit and if we can just break free of our bodies, then we can live the true spiritual life. St. John Paul reminded us that God’s intention in creating man as body and spirit has just the opposite purpose. In his 1994 Letter to Families he said:
“It is typical of rationalism to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter.”
In other words, what we do with our bodies does affect our spiritual life (our intellectual and prayer life). It also affects our apostolic life. How can we spread the Gospel if, through our own neglect, we are unfit or too sick to do so?
What often prevents us from going deeper into our prayer lives and serving God effectively is the quality of our physical health. I experience this all the time, especially when I am traveling and speaking or preparing to teach. The last thing I need is to be battling sickness, fatigue, anxiety, and the like. These battles led me more into rediscovering the true meaning of “health.”
It is interesting to note that the word “health” means “wholeness” and that “healing” derives its meaning from this. So, it is important to remember what is meant by the “whole” person. In that light, when we speak of healing, especially that of Jesus, it is always for the purpose of restoring us to this “wholeness” — a wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t have bothered healing the mentally and physically sick and just told them “offer it up”.
During Lent we focus heavily on renewing our spirit by focusing on penance. In most cases, we do it by negating something associated to our bodies. It is easy to miss the accompanying reality that penances like fasting and avoiding things like sweets are also very good for the body. It’s like a double reset of body and soul. Lent really is an extraordinary opportunity to prepare our entire person — body, mind and spirit — for a total resurrection.
So, when Easter Sunday comes around, what is our plan? How are we going to arise with Christ and become fully alive? We will do so only to the extent that we in-corporate (pun intended) [or incarnate – whatever your preference] a healthy lifestyle. I promise you, that if you incorporate a healthy nutrition and exercise on a daily basis (15-20 minutes a day), you will find greater clarity in your thinking and your prayer life will be more focused and fruitful. How can I promise that? Because that is how God made us! God made our bodies to move. And the healthier we are, the better and more we can serve God and our families with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our strength. The health component of our Christian life is so important that the mission of Heroic Families even offers health coaching to help those wanting to fill-in the gaps of their daily regimen with an the integrated Catholic lifestyle. We have seen time and again how helping others get their essential health in order gives them greater freedom and capacity to pursue their God-inspired dreams and live more virtuous lives.
We all made Lenten resolutions to prepare us for Easter. Now, what is your Easter resolution?
Jesus told us: “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” It’s time for us to take back our health, rise and come alive with Christ!
In light of this post, I am excited to announce a special speaking event I am launching right now called “Come Alive!” In this talk I provide a unique, integral and cutting-edge vision of the new evangelization for families. What do Mary, your purpose in life, getting your health in order and freedom have to do with the new evangelization? My short answer: “EVERYTHING.” “Come Alive!” is a message that families have been waiting for — families who want to discover and live the abundant life God has created them for! I am now booking this event and there is availability as early as the end of April! Visit www.heroicfamilies.com/ and bring this life-transforming message to your community . . . anywhere in the world!
Art for this post on the resurrection of our bodies: Photography of Socrates and Irenaeus words, as well as the Heroic Families Logo, courtesy of Dr. Peter Howard and used with permission. Plaque with three saints rising from the dead, Limoges artwork, unknown artist, circa 1250, photographed by Marie-Lan Nguyen, 2012, CCA 2.5 Generic, Wikimedia Commons.