“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)
This infamous Scripture passage, which was read at a daily Mass this week, is frequently quoted by Christians and can often be seen on large signs at football games or other big events. Matter of fact, one of the parishioners who goes to my church bought a bright yellow truck and has it wrapped with Scripture verses where he references John 3:16, which grabs lots of attention. During the homily, Father Greco unpacked this popular verse and described it as a great synthesis of the Gospel.
This verse points to the great bookends of the Christian life, which begins with the love of God for us and ends with life. In between these two bookends is belief, or faith. When we first encounter Christ and gaze upon him on the cross we are startled by the unfathomable love he has for each of us. The end which wraps this story up is life…eternal life. This life is meant to be discovered and lived out by each of us on earth and has the attributes of peace, joy and sacrificial love.
It is, however, the middle part where our story is peeled back layer by layer. The belief that is referenced in the text is not some sort of lightning bolt moment, but rather a process. It is a gradual unveiling of the One who is Truth and our response to Him. It is akin to the development of a relationship between a husband and his spouse. This process takes time and involves trust and surrender just as a healthy marriage deepens within the seasons of the relationship. The result of this journey is a joy-filled and peaceful life.
As Catholics, it is important we do not fall into the trap of Gnosticism, essentially focusing only on the intangible world while ignoring the body and what it represents. Our Faith teaches us that the Lord did not remain merely a spirit, but rather the Father “gave his only son,” and He took on human flesh. This is a reason the Church, in her wisdom, adorns our worship spaces with physical representations of our Lord and the saints. We are reminded when we enter any Catholic Church, of the radical love the Second Person of the Holy Trinity has for us. To take flesh, to live like us in the flesh, and to be crucified in that same flesh. We are reminded of the sacrifices and struggles, and ultimate joy, the saints before us have experienced when we see their statues.
As modern Christians, we, like the saints who witness for us a life lived radically for the Gospel, must be strong in body, mind, and soul to fight this fight. We cannot let our bodies become weak so as to not be able to fight when the Lord asks us. Rather let us follow our great Catholic tradition of recognizing the inherent good in our bodies, and the gift that they are from God.
The Wellness Journey
God has infused his creative life into the physical world. Our physical bodies, and the way they work, can be seen as an icon of the Theo drama that God crafts in our lives. The bookends of our wellness journey often begin with an encounter with someone who is fit and ends with our freedom and a well lived life. We often encounter someone personally or through media who has what we want. It is someone that is healthy and expresses self-mastery and confidence which draws us to them. The end of this journey is your own self-mastery and the freedom to live for others and remain strong.
The middle of this journey is also a process. After meeting someone who has what you want, there has to be a time of training. This is a period which requires sacrifice and trust in the process. If we are faithful in our physical training, which is necessarily demanding, the result will be the freedom to live a life which is less prone to disease and can enable you to remain active as you grow older.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” – Thomas Edison
We can see that training our bodies is a process and can be a sign of the necessary development of faith that is described in the spiritual life of a Christian. Both begin with an encounter and the outcome is a full life. This free and exuberant life is the end which we all desire but is won through faithful training and trust as our story is written with the ink of self-sacrifice and commitment.
“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)