If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might the heart of man become in its long journey to the stars? (G. K. Chesterton)It was almost fifteen years ago that reading a Desert Father by the name of Neilos the Ascetic prompted me to adopt new habits of diet and exercise. This is what I took from the excerpt: Vices are interrelated. Countering our indulgences in one area (e.g., gluttony, anger) can have salutary effects in another (e.g., sloth, lust). At my personal peak of ponderousness, undisciplined in body and spirit, and having witnessed my father's hospitalization for congestive heart failure earlier that year, I decided to make some changes.
|Graduation from College Seminary (1998)|
|With Dad, at home (circa 2002)|
I wish I could say that my behavioral modifications turned me into a Desert Father, but I have learned that a change of heart is not governed by the externals. That said, due attention to my physical well-being has proved helpful to my overall condition. At the very least, I hope to make it easier for the pallbearers.
After my initial weight loss, a number of people who hadn't seen me for some time couldn't believe what they now saw. When Jesus appeared to people after His Resurrection--people like Mary Magdalene, and the disciples en route to Emmaus--they didn't recognize Him, either. The big difference in Jesus' case, of course, is the resurrected body: far better than Botox, airbrushing, or even P90X! In the resurrection, one's physical appearance will match his or her spiritual state, for good or ill. If you ask me, the transcendence of earthly limitations and defects is a big incentive to cling to Divine Mercy.
Spiritual and physical disciplines can help to make a person more receptive to the divine life and more resistant to sin. The perennial danger is to become Pelagian, relying on one's own unaided efforts to "earn" eternal salvation. Pride can wend its way into any human endeavor. Trusting in the Lord's interests for our union with Him, we call these sayings to mind:
"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9);
"Dearly beloved, we are God's children now. What we shall later be has not yet come to light. We know that, when it comes to light, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope based on Him keeps himself pure, as He is pure" (1 Jn 3:2-3).