In today’s modern culture we are obsessed with appearances of the body. The fashion, cosmetic, fitness, and health industry are all billion dollar industries in their own right. Now, these industries all address a crucial aspect of what it means to be a person – to care for and protect your physical body. However, to understand the value of physical care is to know one-half of the equation of what it means to be a human person. Simply put, a human being has two dimensions attached to him. What makes a human person is the combination and unity of body and soul. Now, because both body + soul make up a human person, there should be similarities in how both dimensions operate. In this article, I will draw out how both elements have similarities by way of understanding how they are perfected – in a workout.
The idea that a person is made with the two dimensions of body and soul is illuminated in Genesis. Here, we see clues of how God made man. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The dust of the ground represents that material (body) dimension, and the breath of life represents the immaterial (soul) dimension. Therefore, the body is the material dimension while the soul is the immaterial dimension. What is the soul? The soul is the full system of what is driving your internal thoughts. No one can know what someone is thinking so thoughts cannot be located by a material process. However, we equate what really makes a person by that person’s internal thought process more than their physical appearance. For example, if Mike were to ask to describe who Tom is, Mike might give a physical description of Tom. Mike could say that Tom is six feet tall with dark hair and a muscular build. This description of Tom is a physical description that one can know through a material process and observation. However, Mike could also describe Tom by saying he is spontaneous, energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate about music. This description of Tom cannot be known by physical observation but only by understanding Tom’s thoughts. In fact, popular personality tests use questions to get at people’s thoughts in order to make a proper identification of what this person is really like. In other words, a true person test can only be made by extracting the person’s thoughts through a series of questions and not by a physical examination. Therefore, what makes up a human person is the combination of a body and soul with a greater emphasis placed on a person’s thoughts (soul) in order to accurately identify the real person.
Now that we know how important the soul is in defining a person, let’s take the next step to show how significant the soul is. The body of a person last on average 79 years. However, the soul lasts forever or is eternal – with no ending. You don’t have to be a math wizard to know that the number infinity (never ending) is overwhelmingly greater than 79. Therefore, the health of the soul far outweighs the health of the body. But, ironically we’ve got it all reversed. We’re obsessed with the body. We spend all this time, effort, and energy on the body and give a kind of nod of indifference to the soul. This is one clue as to why the human race is insane. Or, as Christianity puts it – we are all flawed. One reason we are flawed is because we care much more about the lesser version of ourselves (the body) and care less about the most important version of ourselves (the soul).
It is important to note that in Catholicism, the body is not viewed as wicked. Rather, the body is sacred as Paul announced, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). The crucial point being that body is sacred precisely because it has an immortal God-breathed soul in it. What makes the body significant is that the body bears God’s image of male and female (see Genesis 1:27) In theology of the body the material creation is meant to point to the spiritual reality. Therefore, the body is meant to act as an arrow pointing to the soul. However, a problem arises when we obsess over the body to the point we don’t pay any attention to what the body is supposed to point us to – the soul.
Now, all the countless hours people spend to take care of their physical body from the constant cosmetic care of hair, skin, to eating healthy, to working out, to medical checkups indicate that taking care of the body is a never-ending process. All this work also suggests that the body never fully reaches that perfected state. That is, it remains flawed in many respects and needs constant attention to keep in well working shape. As far as being physically fit – estimates indicate that only 1% of people in the world have an athletic Olympian shape body.
Given that the physical body is flawed we can now ask what about the soul. Are people’s thoughts messed up? We don’t have to go far to figure this out. All you have to do is imagine that other people can know your internal thoughts. Would you be comfortable with this? Not only can people know your thoughts, but they also know the motivation behind your thoughts. In other words, your deep hidden internal agenda becomes known to all. If you are honest, you would not like this scenario. Why? Because it would show how deceptive, messed up, and selfish our thoughts really are. Therefore, our soul is in bad shape. In fact, the soul is in even worse shape than our body. Christianity identifies our messed up soul with the understanding of the word “sin.”
Now, it’s a given that to craft a well-running and picturesque body, you need to put the body through intense physical strain. All of the fad workouts from cardio-blast, boot camp workouts, and cross-fit suggest this. Ask any personal trainer and you’ll hear the same message: To be in peak physical shape, you need to make your body uncomfortable in numerous ways in your workout.
Because the body and the soul both come from God, they have similarities in which they operate. To fully understand how to approach the soul, you basically need to use the same method to manage your body. So what the gym and the doctor is for the body, the Church is for the soul. The Church (specifically the Sacraments) are the best way to get the soul (your thoughts) back into shape. Some people might be in good physical shape, but unless you’re a walking saint, I guarantee that your soul looks more like an obese person’s body. It needs major work. The Mass is like the gym for an out of shape and obese soul.
I recently consulted a personal trainer named Tim. He indicated, “Any reputable personal trainer will tell you that a good workout plan for an overweight person is designed to be uncomfortable for their body.” When a person first starts working out, their body won’t react well to the exercise. That is because their body has been so compromised that it is in revolt to the workout. Well, this is the whole point. A good personal trainer has to shock the body out of its lethargic state so it can develop into a healthy body. This whole process at first is going to be painful, annoying, and require a great deal of commitment. But, the more a person keeps persevering through the workout program, the better they will feel and easier the workout will become.
It is the same way with the Mass. When a person enters the Mass, with a self-centered “I need to be entertained” thought system, it will be as brutal for them as the obese person’s first entrance into a personal trainer’s gym. We see that the reaction of the body to the gym is the same reaction of the tarnished soul to the Mass. Your flawed thoughts will be challenged and annoyed in the Mass. Just like the overweight person at the gym, you might feel tempted to tap out and leave early. Your damaged thought system will naturally want to revolt with boredom and be unamused. In other words, just like an overweight person’s body will want to rebel at the gym so to will your corrupted thoughts want to rebel at the Mass. This is because just like in the gym, your thoughts need to be shocked out of their self-centered comfort zone. However, as you learn more about the Mass, and keep going you will notice the same affects as the obese person does in the gym. As you keep doing it, it won’t be as difficult, and your soul will start to feel better. The same holds true with all spiritual workouts – praying the rosary, fasting, confession, etc. These exercises are meant to take a weak soul and make it strong. They are meant to take your self-absorbed desires of “what’s in it for me” and flush them out into self-giving desires where you are focused on “what’s in it for the other.” So, the self-absorbed desires you have are like the junk food desires of an obese person. If you are going to a church merely because they have uplifting music that entertains your desires, this is as problematic as an obese person going to a personal trainer because the trainer feeds them with their junk food cravings. Plus, if you are seeking a good personal trainer, you would naturally want to by-pass all the would-be pretenders and go to the best trainer you can get. Well, in the Mass (and nowhere else) you are getting the best trainer imaginable – God himself literally present in the Eucharist.
Your thoughts are messed up. Of course, your flawed thoughts are bored at Mass just like of course an overweight body craves pizza and donuts above water and a sweaty workout. Both body and soul desires are flawed so we should expect this. But, you don’t dismiss the solution (the workout/the mass) by your flawed desires (I don’t like it). Everyone wants junk food and a gentle message on their body just like everyone wants an entertaining church that pleases them. But everyone needs a trainer that makes you feel uncomfortable just like everyone needs a church that gets you out of your self-fulfilling comfort zone. Being uncomfortable in your physical workout out is a good thing – the same is true of the Mass. So, if you’re bored and uncomfortable at Mass – that is normal. You’re supposed to be at first. This means it’s starting to work. Any personal trainer will tell you that a sign of a good workout is that it won’t feel good at first and will even strain your body.
If you doubt this, I suggest reading Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Matthew chapters 5-7 (also Matthew 10:16-39) about what it will be like to be one of his followers. It sounded to them about as brutal and intense as Jillian Michael’s workout plan sounds to the Biggest Loser contestant on their first day. So, of course, a person isn’t going to like the instructions from the Church just like of course a person isn’t going to like the instructions from their personal trainer. Both are designed to push you beyond where you want to go.
This logic is especially the case with the Sacrament of Confession. No one, at first, wants confession as it is a brutal self-examination of your soul just like no one wants that first day of boot camp as it puts a hard test on your body. I can say by experience if you haven’t gone to confession in years, the first time will be as grueling as someone’s first workout in years. As with both, you’ll first want to hold back from going all out and just start with the basics. The second time will be challenging as well, but right around the 7th-8th time, you’ll be able to put more into it, and it won’t feel so strenuous. After a while, it’ll be just as easy as the veteran athlete doing his daily workout – and each time you’ll feel much better.
Not everyone is prepared for the spiritual workouts of the Mass, confession, praying the rosary, adoration, and fasting just like not everyone is ready to jump into cross-fit. This stuff is not for the weak and timid soul. You may need to get yourself prepared for this process. First, you first have to realize that this is going to be a long, grinding process that isn’t designed to feel good at first. But, just like any good workout program if you stick with it over time you’ll reap well-earned rewards with a better-looking soul. Mother Theresa is a canonized saint. Her soul looks like what an Olympian athlete’s body looks like – near perfect. But, her spiritual workout was at the elite level and certainly couldn’t be followed by a timid soul jumping in unprepared.
It is also important to realize that the longer a person puts off taking care of their body with a workout program at the gym, the harder it will be. In other words, it makes more sense to go through care of the body earlier rather than later. It is the exact same way with your soul. Let’s be honest. Our thoughts are messed up. Psychology shows us that our thoughts are cleverly geared to look like we’re amazing when, in fact, our thoughts are an ugly, self-centered mess. The longer you put off this more important workout of your soul, the harder it will be to change your flawed thought process.
One of the main reasons we are obsessed with the care of our body is because we want to display it well for all to see. Also, a healthy body makes us feel better. Well, the same holds true with the soul only on a much larger level. At some point (perhaps at the point of death) your deep internal thoughts will be on full display, and what is left of your internal acting job will be exposed. Might as well go through the workout of your thoughts now so they are pure and not fake when they come out. Might as well go through the spiritual work out now so you feel better about your thoughts churning in your mind right now.
While taking care of the soul might be more challenging than taking care of the body, it certainly is not less important. The good news is it doesn’t require as much time as the body does. Any good personal trainer would recommend you workout 4-5 days a week for about 50 minutes a day. That adds up to about 17 days/month for a total of 15 hours and 20 mins/month. If you do the most basic workout of the soul you will do 4 Masses, and 1 confession/month. This workout is 5 days/month for a total of about 4 hours and 20 minutes/month. Not only is the soul more important, the workout time is actually easier.
At the end of the day, your body will be done and gone within about 30-60 years from now. So, all those physical workouts while good in themselves won’t mean anything in the big picture. However, your soul will last forever. This workout will have immense long-term implications. Why not start investing time into this realm? You live with your soul MUCH longer than you live with your body.
The body and the soul come from the same source. So it makes sense that they both have a similar approach in moving towards their perfected state. We know that the method of short-term pain leads to long-term gain works for an athletic body. Just apply the same concept to the soul on a much larger level. While we obsess about the body let’s at least take another look at that dimension within us that will be around well after our body is gone – the soul.