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Every Day Catholic - January 2012

Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. Great for group or individual study, and FREE online discussion guides are available for each issue. Get more information and order here.

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Exercise, Sports and Spirituality: Celebrating Body and Soul
By: B. G. Kelley

“Why’d you do that?” I asked my wife, Ellie. In a five-mile race, she’d slowed in the last mile, allowing a friend to beat her to the finish.

“It meant more to her to get there first,” she said. Ellie’s response brought to mind a saying of Trappist monk Matthew Kelty: “To see God in all things you have only to play...with an unselfish heart.”

Wholesome spirituality must include the body to help us move toward a holistic union with God. Physical play, whether running, playing basketball, biking, rock climbing, swimming or dancing, is tied to the human spirit.

If we put physical play and exercise in a spiritual dimension, it will help us accept absolute concepts—winning and losing, discipline, hard work—and understand life better. It will reveal character and grace; enlist intelligence and challenge; and teach respect for limits and laws. Author and philosopher Albert Camus said, “Sport is where I had my only lessons in ethics.”

Play nourishes the soul, making time wonderfully irrelevant, allowing us to escape from temporal and secular struggles—bills, workplace stress, desecration of the environment and crime.

Play allows us to escape into our souls, reflect and awaken innocence that often gets lost in becoming adults. It helps us keep our lives from becoming merely about pleasure, power, glory and wealth.
My running is a celebration of body and soul. I run in sacramental environments, where tall timbers, vast rivers, geese or the sun dropping like a gold coin bring both physical and spiritual poetry to my surroundings.

Embracing the journey
The physical-spiritual journey is intentional and purposeful from start to finish. It will not go adrift, subject to the whims of luck or chance.

One autumn day long ago, I looked for my name on the locker room door at my high school. It wasn’t there. I’d failed to make the basketball team.

Father Walter Conway noticed my dejected look when I shuffled into Latin class. “What’s wrong, son?” he asked. “I got cut from the basketball team,” I said. He pulled me aside, saying, “Son, you’re going to have to accept suffering and challenge as part of the search for fulfillment. Accept the suffering, then accept the challenge and pray that God will show you the way to do something that will earn you a spot on the team next year.” Those words stuck in my psyche like a first kiss sticks to your lips.

I came to a decision: I would fuse the physical and the spiritual. While running four miles a day, I prayed to be as prepared as possible, so that by the following fall, when basketball tryouts came around, I’d be both in superior physical condition and in good shape spiritually. I worked on my ball-handling and shooting as well.

I ran in Fairmount Park, a piece of paradise in the city of Philadelphia. The autumn leaves along the Schuylkill River had turned to carrot orange, saffron gold and scarlet red. The sun shimmered on the water. The air was crisp as celery. God provided this refuge for me. I even ran in the winter there, when it was so cold that icicles formed on my eyebrows. (I guess that was part of the suffering!)
When springtime arrived, so did blossoming cherry trees, gentle breezes coming off the water, and the rhythmic slicing of scullers’ oars, keeping time with my rhythms of prayer.

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Summer came with its intense heat. (Again, the suffering!) But I kept reflecting on my Latin teacher’s words: “Accept suffering and challenge as part of the search for fulfillment.”

In autumn, I once again stood before the locker room door, reading the names of those who’d made the basketball team. My name was there! I’d arrived at my physical and spiritual destination, and the journey was as important as the arrival.

My physical-spiritual journey continued: I became a starter and exceeded my dreams by earning All-League honors and leading our division in scoring. More importantly—at least to my pop—basketball led to a college scholarship.

Making a spiritual connection
It’s not easy to sit down and write. Or perhaps the sitting down is easy, and the writing is hard. I was having trouble coming up with ideas for this essay—writer’s block. I needed to free myself, feel a sense of abandonment and do something physical to unlock myself mentally.

So I headed for Valley Green, an outdoor monastery that can silence the ticking of the clock and block out the irrelevant things that spin around us. It’s where I came when my parents died, to
release my sorrow, talk to them, commune with God and ask God to brace me for life without them. The sacramental solitude and peace I find there is a physical prayer.

This day I wanted to be released from the curse of the blank page.

I ran and was able to work out ideas that pounded life into words for this essay. I sprinted back to my car, where I keep a pad and pen for just such revelations, and scrawled down my ideas.

Becoming complete
Know this: Physical exercise is not simply an investment in one’s health. Sure, it enriches muscle strength, bone density and brain stimulus—those parts of the body that steadily tend to decline as we age. But also know this: Physical play and exercise can help us stay connected to God and the world. This can lead to a physical and spiritual ripening rather than a rotting.

What Murray Bodo, O.F.M., wrote in The Way of St. Francis: The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone rings true: “I am a whole person, and until I love my body as much as my soul, I will not be a truly complete human being.”

Imprimatur was granted for this article, “Exercise, Sports and Spirituality—Celebrating Body and Soul,” by B.G. Kelley, from Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 9-27-11.

B. G. Kelley has written magazine articles, a book of poetry and a network TV film. A longer version of this article appeared in the July 2011 issue of St. Anthony Messenger.

Making Connections

■ Where do play, exercise and sports fit into your life?

■ How faithful are you to staying or becoming physically fit? How might tying prayer into this effort help you grow physically and spiritually?

■ What can you do to better integrate body and soul?

Movie Moments

Rocky Balboa
By: Frank Frost

When Rocky Balboa was released in 2006, it was promoted with special attention to the “Christian” market. Writer-director, Sylvester Stallone, said the movie was a metaphor for the redemption he experienced in his own life. Whether this helped the marketing is an open question, but it’s fair to say that the movie itself exemplifies the way sports can play a spiritual role in one’s life.

A promotional tagline for Rocky Balboa reads, “It’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” And that pretty much sums up the story of Rocky 30 years after his first incredible victory that made movie history.

Rocky’s life didn’t turn out to be happy-ever-after. He’s taken some spiritual body blows. He’s lost his wife, Adrian (the movie opens and closes at her graveside), and his son resents and avoids him. But when promoters persuade Rocky to participate in an “exhibition” match with the current world champion, he discovers a road to redemption not only for himself, but also for his son, Bobby; his sidekick, Paulie; and for new friends, “Little Marie” and her son.

Rocky has major obstacles to overcome, but now they’re as much psychological as physical. He needs first to face his own fears. Marie encourages him, saying, “The last thing to age is your heart.”

He must face his son Bobby’s objections. He’s talking as much to himself as his son when he says “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place….But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.”

In the end, he’s able to take hard hits and keep going, knowing that whatever the outcome of the fight, he’s a winner. In that is a spiritual victory.

Next time you watch Rocky Balboa, ASK YOURSELF:

■ What do you make of the prayer Rocky’s buddy recites before the fight: “It is not by strength, not by might, but by his spirit we have already claimed victory in our Lord Jesus Christ”?

■ Marie tells Rocky, “Fighters fight.” How much of Rocky’s challenge is a matter of identity? Is that a challenge I relate to?

■ Rocky can’t do it alone. How does the support of Paulie, Bobby and Marie help him? And help them?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Colleen Van Tiem
By: Joan McKamey

While most people exercise for physical health, some turn to exercise for emotional and spiritual healing. Always active, Colleen Van Tiem tells Every Day Catholic, “Running has always been a means to keep in shape—I feel physically better and healthy when running. Exercise forces me to get outside of whatever else is going on and focus on what’s happening within. It gives me a chance to have a conversation with God—whether I’m happy, sad, frustrated or confused.” She had completed her first half-marathon the week before her boyfriend, Dan Haubert, committed suicide in 2009.

Colleen, now a physical therapist living in Michigan, and Dan met as students at the University of Dayton. Although they never ran together, Colleen says, “He’d started running in the months before he died and got up to eight miles.” She adds, “Dan’s charisma and imagination were fantastic. He was passionate about his ideas and those of others. He was real and honest. Dan could talk to anyone and be absolutely sincere. He was hilarious and had an ingenious quick wit. Dan was a dreamer.” After his death, Colleen found it natural to turn to running as a way to heal and to remember and honor Dan.

“On the night of Dan’s funeral, Anna Young, a UD alum, mentioned she’d be running the Disney marathon in 13 weeks. She suggested that Adam Rathge, another UD alum, and I join her—it would give us a goal and a method of coping. That night, Adam and I pinky swore to run to remember Dan. Others pledged to support us. After we realized how helpful training and spending marathon weekend together in Florida were, we knew we needed to do it again.

“Our blog ( started as a way for us runners to keep in touch during training. It turned into much more as I recognized what a huge outlet it is. After getting lots of e-mails and thousands of page views, we realized the blog is helping not only us, but many other people, heal.” It’s also used to organize runs and fundraisers. Money raised helps support a scholarship in Dan’s name.

“Organizing these runs has given me tangible goals and improved focus. It has provided a connection to keep Dan’s memory alive. Participating has kept me on track. When I fall off my running schedule, I quickly become frustrated with myself; lose patience with others; lose creativity, focus and memory; and make unhealthy choices. Exercise has been part of a path to healing. Any form of exercise helps me cope with the slumps and the abrupt turns—it helps me find patience for myself.

“My faith has been a stable foundation through this and the other trials I’ve been through. I’ve asked quite a few “whys” of God—knowing there isn’t a clear answer, but I still ask. On the days it’s hard to believe God is there on my side, exercise helps to keep me grounded.”

Passing On the Faith

Body and Soul Connection
By: Jeanne Hunt

Q. I have trouble finding time for exercise. How can I make exercise a priority—and a prayer?
A. First, we have to admit to ourselves that no time is optimal. In fact, we can think of hundreds of things that are more fun than pushing ourselves out the door to exercise. I have three recommendations for getting yourself in gear: Pick an exercise time that fits your lifestyle and be faithful to it. First thing in the morning works best for me even if it means getting up earlier. Read the Gospel of the day before you begin and choose one phrase that attracts you. As you work out, reflect on those words. Finally, get out those rosary beads and learn how to pray the beads to the rhythm of your steps or reps.
Q. Pope John Paul II called us to be stewards of our bodies. What steps are essential in doing that?
A. Pope John Paul II stayed fit all of his life, so he’s great body coach. He would tell us to see our bodies as gifts in our care. Our attitude toward our bodies is important. What we put into them can bring life or destroy it, so eat healthy foods and avoid chemicals, trans fats and sugars. Learn to have fun with physical activity: Hiking, swimming, skiing and walking in the park were all favorites of the late pope. While you can’t have his medical team, you can make sure to see your own team of medical experts regularly. Last, but not least, get your sleep. Six to eight hours of rest is needed to keep well. In fact, John Paul II wasn’t above an occasional afternoon nap.

Q. My children spend too much time watching television and playing video games. What family exercises could we participate in?
A. Now is the time for tough love. There must be time each day when television and video games are off limits. This should not be negotiable. In my family, there was no television or video games until 6:00 p.m., and homework needed to be finished first.

After school, allow your child to get outside and exercise with or without you. Physical activities for the family might include hiking, rowing, swimming, tennis, handball, skating or biking. Decide as a family what looks like fun and plan at least one physical activity per week.


Body Prayer
By: Jeanne Hunt

(for praying alone or with others)

Pour a small amount of fragrant oil over cotton balls in a small bowl. Please the bowl of cotton balls, a Bible and a lighted candle on a prayer table.

“Bless the Lord” from Taizé (or other chant hymn)

Beloved Lord, we acknowledge the gift of life that flows through our bodies. The rhythm of our hearts, the warmth of our hands and the sparkle in our eyes are all gifts from you. Give us the wisdom and grace to be gentle stewards and good caretakers of these precious gifts. Amen.

Romans 12:1
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Divine Creator, we give you everything we see, hear, smell and touch. We want to use all that we are to become your presence in the world. So we lift up our wonderful bodies as gifts you have given us. Help us to use them to honor you and your Kingdom. Amen.

You are each invited to come forward, dip your finger in the oil and make the Sign of the Cross on your palm as a sign of reverence for your body and as a pledge to care for and honor it.
(As the participants come forward, play quiet music.)

May God bless and keep us in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Anthony Claret: The "spiritual father of Cuba" was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council. 
<p>In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers. </p><p>He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians. </p><p>He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: <i>Reflections on Agriculture</i> and <i>Country Delights</i>. </p><p>He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony. </p><p>All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets. </p><p>At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, "There goes a true saint." At the age of 63, he died in exile near the border of Spain.</p> American Catholic Blog The greatest tragedy of our world is that men do not know, really know, that God loves them. Some believe it in a shadowy sort of way. If they were to really think about it they would soon realize that their belief in God’s love for them is very remote and abstract. Because of this lack of realization of God’s love for them, men do not know how to love God back. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty

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