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Resistance Training for the Soul
by Ellen Hogarty
In my last few posts, I have shared some of the lessons I learned from walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. My pilgrimage was a very rich experience, and as I continue to meditate and learn from it, I want to pass that on to you because I think these lessons can apply to all of us.
We hear so much about the importance of exercise and staying fit so that our bodies remain healthy and strong as we get older. This is true and important.
But we hear much less about keeping our souls in shape. Just like our bodies need exercising and resistance training, so do our souls. St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote in the introduction of his famous Spiritual Exercises:
“For just as taking a walk, traveling on foot, and running are physical exercises, so is the name of spiritual exercises given to any means of preparing and disposing our soul to rid itself of all its disordered affections..."
Our fleshly desires wage war on our souls
As human beings, we like things as comfortable as possible. We like the best serving of food, the most comfortable chair, a soft pillow, a warm coat in the winter, and air conditioning in the summer. Whatever will make us more comfortable is what we are drawn to.
The trouble with constantly giving in to those preferences and inclinations is that we start getting sluggish and lazy in our spiritual lives.
Growing in virtue gets harder.
Our vices often get more pronounced.
Our communication with the Lord grows hazy and moves down on our list of priorities.
Scripture tells us our earthly desires wage war against our souls.
1 Peter 2:11 "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul."
We know that our physical bodies can get flabby and out of shape if we stop exercising or eat whatever we want. The same is true for our spiritual life. If we don't train and exercise our souls daily, we are going to become flabby Christians, not able to stand firm in our faith or persevere to the end.
So what's a comfort-loving person to do? Spiritual exercise!
We need to do some spiritual resistance training on a regular basis. How?
Voluntarily choose some discomfort each day
When you are on a pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago, hardships and discomforts are built in. Your feet hurt, your back aches, and your muscles are tired from the miles and miles traveled each day while carrying a pack on your back.
Sometimes you sleep in a room full of other people who smell, who snore at night, who wake you up early with all their noise — that is if you're even able to find lodging for the night.
At first, it's almost too much, and many drop off and quit their Camino pilgrimage. But as you continue to walk, you toughen up and grow in endurance and stamina, and the walking gets easier.
Discomforts and sacrifices are built into a pilgrimage like the Camino. But the Church encourages us to voluntarily choose some discomfort in our day-to-day lives.
Small, daily sacrifices strengthen us for the journey
The U.S. Bishops, for example, are suggesting that Catholics give up meat every Friday, not just during Lent (see some of the intentions recommended). This is a way we can incorporate a small sacrifice into our weekly routine.
Those of us who live at the Lord’s Ranch voluntarily choose to take only 2 showers a week.
There are many small ways that we can discipline the unruly desires of our flesh and grow in stamina for the journey. Our souls need resistance training as much, if not more, than our earthly bodies.
What desire of the flesh do you want to say no to today?