Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Spiritual Exercise

Readings: Ezekiel 28:1-10; Deuteronomy 32:26-27ab, 27cd-28, 30, 35cd-36ab; Matthew 19:23-30
Picture: CC ~twon~

At the gym the other day, I noticed a new article on the wall. It’s aim was to debunk some common health and fitness myths. One of these myths is the belief that all thin people are fit and healthy, with low body-fat, and so do not need to exercise. On the contrary, the article noted that thin people could still carry hidden fat deposits in their bodies that may adversely affect their health. One can be slim and shapely, for example, and still have cholesterol clogged arteries. And we know how dangerous that can be. Clogged arteries prevent life-giving, oxygen-carrying, blood from passing through them, leading to potentially fatal conditions such as strokes and heart attacks. Thinness doesn’t necessarily imply health. The bottom line is that we all need to exercise.

The image of clogged arteries presents a useful corollary to Jesus’ well-known parable in today’s gospel: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God. On the one hand, a rich person may too easily be tempted to cling stubbornly to his/her material possessions, and as a result, not be slim enough to pass through the tiny aperture that leads into the Kingdom. On the other hand, whatever the state of one’s finances, one’s interior life can also be clogged by various disordered attachments, which prevent the life-blood of God’s love and grace from penetrating one’s mind and heart. In either case, as we noted yesterday, one focuses so much on the self, on its achievements and possessions, that one loses sight of God. One is so preoccupied with negotiating the river of life that one neglects to keep in touch with its Source. One forgets that it is the Lord who deals death and give life.

It’s perhaps important to focus a little more attention on what the image of clogged arteries adds to our reflection. For isn’t it far too easy for many of us to dissociate ourselves from Jesus’ challenge to the rich? It’s easy for us to think that we are not wealthy enough to fall within the scope of Jesus’ critique. True, we may not all be as rich as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, or Li Kashing and the king of Tyre of the first reading, but are we any less attached to the riches that we do (or yearn to) possess? Are we anymore able to pass through the needle’s eye? Do we not need to pay careful heed to the warning of the gym article? One can appear thin in material riches and still have arteries that are so clogged by the cholesterol of selfishness and apathy, of pride and unforgiveness, that the flow of God’s love and grace is dangerously impeded.

Again, the bottom line is worth recalling: fat or thin, rich or poor, we all need to keep fit. On a regular basis, we all need to set aside time to exercise the spiritual muscles that keep us in touch with God. Perhaps the fat and the rich need it more. Perhaps some may even get to the stage where a spiritual angioplasty becomes necessary. But how sure are we that we are still far from that eventuality? How sure are we that our arteries remain unclogged?

How might we continue to keep spiritually fit today?


  1. This is such a simple message, one delivered regularly during homilies, and remembered whenever the camel and eye of the needle story is discussed. And we would all nod wisely, seldom thinking that it refers to us because, afterall, we are not rich.

    But I suppose "riches" are not always abundant material possessions. It is anything that we have which means more to us than our desire to please God.

    Unclogging those "arteries", however, is easier said than done. Changing a bad behaviour, or doing good when you don't really want to, is like trying to lose a kilo through exercise. You lose 0.5kg one week and put it back on the next. You try and you fail, and you try again and fail again. But you must keep trying, because you cannot give up.

  2. Hey! I can identify with this post. I'm definitely not thin, but my LDL cholesterol level is super low at 115 mg/dL. YAY!

    But, not sure about my spiritual level though. I've often wondered how a spiritual weighing scale would show up for me.

    How to keep spiritually fit? Lift up our hearts and souls to the Lord always, as far as we remember and could? Both alone and in community. (Haha, we are talking about to get y, let's do x again?)

    Would be great to have good spiritual companions and advisers, especially those who'd talk back and challenge one sometimes and not just listen and reflect back what has been said.

    I just realise how useful this is. Yesterday, I nearly decided to stop a Week of Guided Prayer because my prayer guide challenged me (I thought too much) during the very first session. It has turned out to be a blessing. For once, I didn't commit one of my habitual sins, thanks to this challenge.

  3. First, my apology for jumping the gun yesterday about the parable about the rich young man, likened to having a camel pass through the eye of the needle ....
    Practicing spiritual gymnast daily through disciplined exercise is a mandatory recipe, I guess.
    You've hit the nail on the head as I now reflect on my own complacency; having my accusing finger to suggest that it is more appropriate for the other person to practice, as I'm actually fit.
    Food for thought which will be guiding my path for the rest of the week. We must break through our own misguided notions.
    Thank you.
    As an aside, your muscles are bulging. Your workout is showing.

  4. Fr Chris, I've been waiting for this gym reflection for a long time. :)

    Here is a reflection (confession?) of a gym rat.

    (1). Exercising regularly is not about being seen in the right company or about looking good. It's about maintaining one's level of health so one doesn't go to one's eternal reward sooner than the Almighty has planned. Believe me, if one is fit, one gets more out of life - and this has ripple effects on other spheres of life.

    (2). Regular exercise requires a huge dose of determination. It is not a flash-in-the-pan or sporadic activity. Before long, the determination gives way to obsession, and you have reached exercise nirvana with a momentum of your own. This is where gym rats have to be wary the obsession doesn't turn into an addiction. Addictions of any kind are not good.

    (3). Because regular exercise needs determination, it is a lonely endeavour because no friend, no matter how close, can be your companion week in week out at the appointed time and place. Our spiritual exercises are not any different. While we are edified praying with others, often the struggle is when one tries to pray alone, especially under very trying circumstances. Happy the person who perseveres knowing that it has to be done for one's long term spiritual health.

    (4). After some time, regular exercise is as natural as eating or taking a bath. As every gym rat will tell you, they actually feel lost and cranky when they skip schedules. Withdrawal symptoms?

    So, where shall we start? The treadmill, cross-trainer or rowing machine? Your call, Fr Chris.


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