Though we believe the connection is strong, it can often be difficult to see the overlap between our life of exercise and our life of prayer.
To put it bluntly, it can feel like prayer is when we think about “holy stuff” and exercise is when we get sweaty to keep our beltline from pushing too far out (not exactly “holy stuff”). But, that’s exactly where we feel it’s most important to bring in a Catholic view to fuse those two activities in a profoundly human way. Depending on the way you practice each (if at all) they can remain separate, but the opportunity is available to us baptized Christians to sanctify every activity of our day and to understand the minutiae of our lives as the battlegrounds of grace that they are.
Here I make reference to the most unlikely hero of the gym, Therese of Lisieux, who said; “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
Sacrifices are hard, and it can sometimes be hard to acknowledge how deeply interconnected sacrifice is with our faith. I’d take that a step further and add that it’s very difficult for modern American Catholics to embrace suffering and sacrifice when our broader culture has become thoroughly obsessed with comfort and convenience (a way of thinking we can’t fully disentangle ourselves from) and our interior Catholic culture has, broadly speaking, de-emphasized or limited the scope of our life of mortification, fasting, and penance. I don’t think the two are disconnected.
Having any sort of relationship with Jesus brings us deep into the mystery of Salvation, naturally leading us to the cross. The cross itself is not desirable but it is desirable for the sake of the one redeemed by it, and this is where our greatest daily opportunity lies.
So what does holy fitness look like? Rosary push-ups? Well, it looks however you make it look but we’re here to supply you with a few ideas to get you started.
This method is by far the simplest way to elevate our grunting and sweating and to begin to let our life of prayer flow over into and begin to characterize every corner of our lives.
1. Bring an intention
2. Work for it
Think of someone, something, or some cause in need of prayer and adopt that as the focus of your thought for the duration of your workout. There is no shortage of causes to pray for. Your own sanctity or in reparation for your sins (or the sins of those close to you), a family member experiencing doubt or who has fallen away from the faith, a co-worker struggling in their marriage, a friend battling a rare disease, the intentions of your locality (environmental or social factors that affect members of your community), persecuted members of the church throughout the world, the pope, the clergy, the unborn. The list goes on. For as many people as exist there are causes in need of grace.
Then, using Therese’s encouragement, over the course of your workout, miss no small opportunity for pushing yourself farther for the sake of your intention. Keeping your running pace at a 90% burn rather than 80%, holding on for an extra five seconds with your battle rope, or tacking on an extra rep at the end of your set.
Let me be clear that this does not mean being irresponsible and lifting above what is safe or pushing yourself to injury in any other way. It takes humble self-knowledge to identify the places where we truly have more to give and separate them from the places where we are still in the process of growing.
In our lives, we are called to be a part of God’s solution to suffering. We are called to embrace and overcome the horrid realities of sin and division in the way that Christ did, Some of us are called to extraordinary acts of virtue, heroic efforts in the name of Christ’s church, and deeply impactful missionary endeavors (I’m thinking Mother Teresa). But, most of us are called to ordinary virtue, to shouldering the little crosses of the day, and to simply taking the next step (which, funny enough, are the things that presuppose extraordinary acts – looking at you Mother Teresa).
A prayerful approach to our exercise is very simply a way of taking on the day’s burden, of overcoming the world (and ourselves), and joining our efforts to the one great effort of reconciliation that the Father is working.