From Bodybuilding to People-Building

Last week, we talked about boasting in the Cross of Christ rather than drawing attention to ourselves, particularly in terms of our exercise and fitness.  Today, we’re continuing our theme of purifying our exercise, trying to make it more God-centered, and the point is that we should exercise, precisely so that we’re able to serve others.

The Gospel says, “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Lk 10:25).  This is a good question.  In other words, what is the meaning and purpose of life?  But the lawyer asks it to test Jesus.  He does the right thing with the wrong motive, just as we often do with exercise.

“Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law?  What do you read there?’  The lawyer answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself’” (10:26-27).  These four terms tell us that we’re supposed to love God with all that we are!  We Christians all know that we should love God with our hearts and minds, but we forget that we should love Him with our physical strength.

“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (10:29).  This is a self-focused question!  He wants to know how far his love should extend.

“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Lk 10:30-32).  Why didn’t the priest and Levite help?  We can speculate: Maybe they were afraid, or had to get to their destination in a hurry.  But the point is that they simply didn’t do the right thing.

Do you ever get angry with people who are able to help but don’t?  They don’t help with the dishes or clean up even though they’re able to; they expect other people to do everything for them.

“‘But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.  Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’   Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Lk 10:33-37).  The word for ‘pity’ comes from the Hebrew word for a mother’s womb; in other words, the Samaritan was moved viscerally.  So, this is our first question: Do we have the heart of Jesus to help?  That’s what He did for us!  He came from heaven to help us, who were spiritually dead.

I remember walking in Ottawa with my brother, two priests in their cassocks, and he bolted across the street because he saw a woman who had fallen on the ground, and he took off his coat to keep her warm while the ambulance was coming.  I cannot tell you how much it moves me when I see people help.  I am grateful when I see the Hospitality Team offer umbrellas on a rainy day, or the 8 a.m. crew shovel snow, or people helping with the garden.  Last week, I told a man here how I am concerned about potential vandalism because of the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, and I noticed how he was alert and protective during the Eucharistic procession!

The fact that the Samaritan lifted the wounded man up onto his animal makes us ask our second question: Do we have the physical strength to help other people?  Not all of us are called to be able to lift other people up, but many of us are.

Dr. Kevin Vost wrote this book Fit for Eternal Life.  I love the description: ‘Is your spirit faithful but your flesh flabby?  Has your Temple of the Holy Spirit begun to creak and crumble?’  Dr. Vost is a doctor of psychology, philosopher, and powerbuilder, and gives a theology of exercise.  One of his points is that “the muscles are the body’s engines… they’re also the engines of corporal works of mercy…  The more powerful we make those engines, the more horses we’ll have under the hood to do those powerful acts of mercy” (xx).  Many people want to look better, but that’s not enough motivation for them to improve their diet and exercise.  However, imagine if we started exercising to help other people—that motivation will last a lifetime.  We have an obligation to live up to our physical potential, so that we can protect and help people.

Let’s ask Jesus’ grace to purify our exercise, so that it’s a means to do corporal works of mercy.

As we continue our Sabbath Summer season, one of the main tests of our exercise is if we say more readily, “Is there anything I can do to help?”  Do we stop all complaining while helping others and doing chores?  Do we help others out in addition to our exercise?

In a few weeks, Fr. John Tritschler will come to offer Mass while I rest.  He’s 82 years old and in great shape, with a great grip.  I told Fr. John, “Father, thank you for taking such good care of yourself, because that’s allowed you to take care of the people of God for more years than is normal.”

So, the two questions today are: Do we have the heart of Jesus to help others?  And do we have the strength to help, insofar as we can?

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