Tending Our Temples
Do you not know that you are the temple of god, and that the spirit of god dwells in you?—1 Cor 3:16
What has faith to do with fitness? We might as well ask what has the soul to do with the body. The answer in both cases is “everything”—at least it should! The Catechism of the Catholic Church (355) tells us that God has united the spiritual and material worlds in humanity’s nature. We are made up of both a soul and a body, and together the two form that unique unity that is a human person. We are not merely souls imprisoned in flesh. The body is not something illusory or evil. When God made humanity and all of material creation, he declared his work “very good” (Gn 1:31). What’s more, God took on human nature in the Incarnation, and we are to be resurrected, as Jesus was, in body and soul.
God calls us to be masters and stewards of all creation, and the Catechism makes clear that this call is realized above all in “mastery of self” (CCC 377). We are to master ourselves, body and soul. Well, if we are to achieve mastery of ourselves, what then should we tell ourselves to do?
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul declares that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are to glorify God in our bodies. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’ve been commanded to convert ourselves into Mr. Universe contenders or runway models. It does imply that we are to take good care of the glorious bodies God has given us. As we seek holiness in our souls, so too should we strive to keep our bodies healthy, ready to do God’s bidding.
In our day of motorized tools of labor and means of transportation, a superabundance of tasty yet not-so-healthy foods, and a constant bombardment of advertising messages to “eat, drink, sit there and be entertained,” it may be difficult to imagine how we can find the time and discipline to tend to our bodily temples when even our spiritual temples may need some repair. As Christians who recognize the importance of both body and soul, though, there’s no reason we can’t remodel both at the same time. It may come as a surprise to some, but even in the body side of that equation, we can call to our aid the timeless wisdom of the Catholic Church and some good old-fashioned Christian virtues.
The virtues of fitness
Saint Thomas Aquinas, master theologian and doctor of the Church, gave us the most detailed examination of human virtues in all of history. In his massive Summa Theologica alone, he spends more than 500 pages addressing them. Virtues are essentially good habits that enable us to make the most of ourselves, to do the right things, to help others, and to enjoy the process. When we have cultivated virtues within our bodies and souls, the right choices and actions become easier, “second nature,” and nearly automatic.
So how do we cultivate the virtues of fitness within our own bodies and souls? Virtues of fitness are a matter of both knowing what we should do and how to get ourselves to do it. Aristotle wrote long ago that we become builders by building and harpists by playing the harp. So once your knowledge base is secure, the time will come to strap on those running or walking shoes or to strap into that machine and just start doing it.