Catholics Making Time to Shape Up Soul and Body
The number of obese US adults is going the wrong way. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a new high in America’s obesity rate, with 42.4 percent of the nation’s adult population now qualifying as obese. Despite the efforts of public health workers and obesity specialists to reverse the trend, the crisis is growing.
Fortunately, there are Catholics who have merged healthy lifestyles with religious zeal, using faith to restore their physical condition or to maintain a body that enables them to serve God and humankind to the best of their ability.
For Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, keeping fit enables him to “feel more energetic” as he faces the “daily demands of work and ministry.” Msgr. Hilgartner, who serves as the pastor at St. Joseph Church in Cockeysville, Maryland, started running in 2008. His first race was ten kilometers (6.2 miles). From that he progressed to a ten-mile race, then a half-marathon, and in 2012 he ran his first full marathon (26.22 miles). He has since run ten marathons.
The monsignor tries to run about four or five times a week. “As the pastor of a large parish, sometimes it is difficult to fit a daily run into my schedule, but the great thing about running is that all it really takes is to get out and run.” When his body begins to tire during a marathon or an especially arduous practice run, he thinks of the words of St. Paul: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
He says running alone is “a very prayerful and reflective time” for him and is “routinely part of my homily preparation.” However, he also relates that running in small groups with friends from his local running community has fostered “some great conversations about faith.”
For people seeking to channel their faith into getting fit, Msgr. Hilgartner suggests they recognize how healthy living is “being a good steward of the gift God has given you,” and that taking care of oneself helps us “to appreciate and cherish the gift.”
With an ever-rising obesity rate fueling incidences of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it is clear that for too many, “the gift” has not received proper care. And yet some persons, especially those of strong faith, continue to dismiss physical fitness as a self-centered “cult of the body” pursuit.
Fr. Brian Larkin acknowledges that our current society, overweight as it is, tends to gravitate to the “cult of the body,” saying, “we live in a hyper-sexualized culture, and there is a danger of fitness degenerating into vanity and becoming a means to sexual license….The proper response, however, is not to reject or neglect the body, but to restore it to its proper relationship to the person,” he says.
Fr. Larkin, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Denver, points out how, even before the time of Jesus, there was a widespread belief that “what really mattered was not your body, but your soul,” and that bodies were “something like prisons for our souls. Many Christians today still think this way, and that is a major problem.” After all, “a good life means cultivating the entirety of the person—soul, mind, and body.”
Msgr. Hilgartner acknowledges that, as with any activity, there is a risk of “becoming obsessed” with fitness or pursuing it “for the wrong reasons.” However, there is “nothing wrong with trying to be healthy, or exercising, or playing a sport for recreation and fun.”