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Celebration of Body and Soul View Comments
By B.G. Kelley

Why did you do that?” I asked my wife, Ellie. In a five-mile road race, she slowed up in the last mile,
on purpose, to allow a friend to pass and beat her to the finish line.

“It meant more to her to get there first,” she said. It 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 in order to complete a holistic union with God. Physical play, whether it’s running, playing basketball, biking, rock climbing, swimming or dancing, is tied to the necessity of the human spirit.

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

More importantly, play is an essential nutrient to the soul. Play makes time wonderfully irrelevant, allowing us to escape for a while from temporal and secular struggles that can eat away at our insides like termites—the mortgage, the bills, the workplace, the college tuition, the desecration of the environment, the crime in our cities, the dead ends and busted dreams.

It allows us to escape into our soul, to introspect, to awaken an innocence that often gets lost, or at least misplaced, in becoming an adult. Reflections and introspections during play possess the power to find ways to peel away those things that lead us asunder and keep our life from becoming merely a compendium of pleasure, power, glory and wealth.

Ernest Hemingway wrote: “If order is to be found in a meaningless universe, a man has to impose that order; a way of doing it is through the ritual of sports.”

When I run, there is always a celebration of the body and soul. One reason is this: I run in sacramental environments, where there is a physical and spiritual poetry to my surroundings, where there are mystical signs of nature and where there are God’s gifts to us: tall timbers that are enveloping; a vast river with its crisp currents running; geese—symbol bearers of faith and peace—sidling up that river or munching on grass along the banks; the sun dropping down like a gold coin. The soul can never be empty in these surroundings.

I sometimes feel part cheetah, part Thoreau, part Thomas More. I hear a prayer that keeps getting louder and louder: Curse the darkness and light a candle.

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B.G. Kelley was a two-year starting point guard for Temple University’s basketball team, earning Honorable Mention All-East and Little All-America honors and participating in “March Madness.” His last piece for St. Anthony Messenger, “The Baseball-Faith Connection,” appeared in July 2010.

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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