FAITH & FITNESS: How Exercise & Workouts Can Build Virtue
by: Roxanne King – National Catholic Register
St. John Paul II loved to ski (among other sports). So did Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (along with hiking). Another hiking-and-skiing saint was St. Gianna Molla. Venerable Michael McGivney played baseball. So did Blessed Solanus Casey. And Blessed Chiara Badano played tennis.
They are in good company. As the fitness trend continues to grow – a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of Americans who now meet or exceed federal exercise guidelines has risen to nearly a quarter of the population – Catholics are helping folks to also exercise their faith as they work out.
At the center of this effort to “inspire the synergy between faith and fitness” is the resource hub called Swole Catholic (SwoleCatholic.com), which provides information on exercise and nutrition via blogcasts, helps connect people with faith-based trainers, gyms, workouts and nutritionists, and offers Scripture-themed sportswear.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
The website lists a bevy of like-minded “outpost” folks who offer friendly, free encouragement as well as a list of professionals who make their livelihoods through their services (for example, personal training).
Swole.Catholic was started by Denverite Paul McDonald. “Swole Catholic is a ministry rooted in encouraging faith-filled fitness, trying to get people to recognize that the body they have is a gift from God and we need to take care of that”, McDonald said.
The name “Swole” in the website’s name refers to the bodybuilding term for “extremely muscular.” The organization’s motto is: “In all I do, let it bring me closer to You.”
“The heart of Swole.Catholic came from my twofold conversion story, both reverting back to my faith as well as having a fitness conversion,” McDonald said, referring to his college days.
Giving up his freshman-year party lifestyle led to his working out more seriously in the gym and discovering a passion for it. Shortly afterward, an invitation to be involved with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) campus ministry led to him leading a Bible study.
“It felt like every single week in Bible study I was making a reference or analogy back to the gym, and it clicked – these two things go together,” McDonald said. “We are body and soul and should be building both. That’s where Swole.Catholic started.”
The organization launched two years ago, selling T-shirts emblazoned with “Swole.Catholic” at a FOCUS conference to promote “faithful fitness” in body and soul. Since the launch, it has expanded to include informational content and to build a supportive community that allows people to find faith-based fitness resources in their area.
“Some Christian circles are stuck in this Gnostic kind of perspective – neglect the material; your body is bad; just take care of your soul,” McDonald said. “The world is opposite – don’t worry about your soul, just your body. But we need to take care of both.”
McDonald points to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?.….Therefore, glorify God in your body.” – among the many Scriptures speaking about the body.
Swole.Catholic aims to assist the faithful in doing just that by making a wealth of resources available, including a former Olympian who offers fitness training to mothers and a group that urges priests to get fit.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to your own discernment as to what works best for you in your relationship with Christ,” McDonald said, adding that Swole.Catholic’s goal is to help people to “become the saints we’re called to be.”
Inspirational Story of a Fit Priest:
In 2013 Father Ryan Rooney weighed 464 pounds. He had difficulty dressing and had trouble going down the stairs to celebrate Mass. A priest of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, he was just 29 years old and had only been ordained three years, but his ministry was in trouble due to his weight.
He recalled, “My bishop and others noticed, and I was sent away to recover at Guest House in Rochester, Minnesota. I lost 100 pounds in five months there.”
“I came back and entered my own recovery program, going to a 12-step program and to the gym and maintaining my diet and exercise. Through that I lost another 145 pounds. I’ve maintained it for a good long time, although it hasn’t been easy, and there have been setbacks.”
Helping him battle his food addiction was discovering a love for high-intensity stationary biking, and he became a certified stationary-bike instructor. His dramatic story caught Catholic media attention and led to Father Casey Jones, a Florida priest who was also fighting obesity, to reach out to him.