January 14, 2022

Focus on improving health of body, mind and soul in 2022

This Scripture passage from 1 Thes 5:23 points to the importance of health to more than just the body. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

This Scripture passage from 1 Thes 5:23 points to the importance of health to more than just the body. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Do you like crowds? Try heading to the gym any day in January as all those people who made New Year’s resolutions to get physically fit try to make good on their goals.

But God gave us more than a body. He gave us a mind and soul too, and those can get out of shape and need tending to as well.

St. Ignatius of Loyola said it well: “It is not the soul alone that should be healthy; if the mind is healthy in a healthy body, all will be healthy and much better prepared to give God greater service.”

The health of one component can affect the health of the others.

For example, the National Center for Biotechnology notes that “exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”

Body? Check. Mind? Check. Add prayer to your exercise and you’ve managed a body, mind and soul trifecta! (It actually is possible, as you’ll see later in this article.)

While it’s not necessary to address all three in one fell swoop, it is necessary to address all three.

So make 2022 the year you improve body, mind and soul—one, two or all three at a time.

Soul—getting more out of Scripture and the Mass

As Catholics, we know that grace abounds through Mass and receiving Christ in the Eucharist. But be honest—are you fully engaged during Mass or has it become a rote routine?

One way to get more out of Mass is to read and reflect on the Sunday Scripture readings in advance.

It just takes a quick Google search on “Mass reading reflections” to find numerous online sources that provide Sunday and even daily Scripture readings and meditations.

For those who eschew the screen for the solid printed page, try a subscription to Our Daily Bread or Magnificat; these small periodicals provide daily Mass readings, reflections, information on saints and more. To view their online resources or to order a subscription, go to odb.org or call 616-974-2210 for Our Daily Bread, or go to us.magnificat.net or call 866-273-5215 for Magnificat.

A hands-on person myself, I was excited to receive a new tool this Christmas to help prepare for Sunday Mass called Every Sacred Sunday by Kassie Manning and Christie Peters.

It’s a self-published journal with the Sunday readings based on the liturgical year. It includes advice on how to read and meditate on Scripture, space each week for writing Scripture reflections and taking homily notes, and room for noting prayer intentions and a weekly focus. For more information, go to everysacredsunday.com.

Beyond the Scripture readings, the Mass itself—the prayers, responses, actions, order, gestures, sacrifice—are steeped in biblical history and meaning.

There are many books available explaining the components of the Mass. I’ve read Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (Ascension Press, 2011, expanded in 2021) and personally found it riveting. In less than 200 pages, it explains 25 components of the Mass from the opening sign of the cross to the final dismissal, including a section on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The book promises to “renew your faith and deepen your love for and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.” I certainly found this to be true.

Mind and soul—‘Know thyself…’

Sometimes it seems the very core of who we are gets in the way of our spiritual journey.

St. Augustine once said, “Know thyself, and thy flaws, and thus live.” I would add also knowing “thy strengths” to the quote, but here’s the gist: Once you know who you are by nature, it’s easier to identify and work on flaws that hinder your relationship with God and to improve upon your natural strengths that can help you better serve God and others.

Granted, each person is unique, and no one perfectly fits a personality label.

Bearing that in mind, a book I found helpful is The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord by Art Bennett and Laraine Bennett (Sophia Institute Press, 2005).

This book helps readers identify themselves generally as one of four personality types and details the common strengths and weaknesses of each.

It also has chapters on understanding the temperament of your spouse and children, marriage and parent/child temperament combinations, temperament and the spiritual life, and more.

The book is less than 270 pages. Personally, it proved eye-opening and helpful for me in understanding my nature and allowing God’s grace to perfect it.

Mind, body, soul—when to seek help

As St. Thomas Aquinas noted, God’s grace perfects our nature to draw us closer to him on Earth and for eternity.

Part of our nature includes our mental health. Be honest—how is your mental health right now? If you answer, “Maybe not the best,” you’re not alone.

A 2019 National Institute of Health report stated that one in five adults suffered some form of mental health issue. Recently, a Statista poll showed that by November 2020 more than one in three U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety.

Mental health can affect not just our spiritual life and relationship with God but our physical life as well—even to the point of death by illness or suicide.

If you think—or know—you’re suffering from mental health issues, don’t wait to seek help. The archdiocese is a good place to start.

Catholic Charities Bloomington has mental health professionals in offices throughout the city who can address numerous mental health, relationship and family issues. For more information, go to www.ccbin.org/our-services or call 812-332-1262.

Catholic Charities of Indianapolis also offers individual, couple and family counseling. For more information, go to cutt.ly/IndyCCtherapy (case sensitive) or call 317-236-1500.

The archdiocesan Office of Human Life and Dignity’s Mental Health Ministry website lists Catholic therapists in Indianapolis and Clarksville, as well as crisis hotlines. For more information, go to cutt.ly/MentalHealthMinistry or call Brie Anne Varick at 317-236-1543.

One source I’ve found informative about mental health from a Catholic perspective is St. Dymphna’s Playbook: A Catholic Guide to Finding Mental and Emotional Well-Being by Tommy Tighe (Ave Maria Press, 2021). It addresses forms of depression, anxiety, trauma, relationships and grief that cause mental health issues.

Each of the 20 short chapters briefly describes the condition, offers basic advice to promote further action, then looks at what the Bible and the saints say regarding the condition.

Body, mind, soul—the trifecta

Here it is—the promised suggestions on how to incorporate exercise and prayer to boost your body, mind and soul!

Honestly, it can be as simple as praying the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet or any standard or spontaneous prayer while walking, jogging or riding a bike.

Some people are even talented enough to read spiritual material while on a treadmill or stationary bike. (I am not one of those people.)

If you need a little more structure, try SoulCore, started by two women in the Lafayette, Ind., Diocese. They developed workouts incorporating core-strengthening moves with the praying of the rosary, holding a pose or stretch through each prayer while meditating on the mysteries.

The program had just started when The Criterion published an article about it in 2015, including the inspirational story that led to the formation of SoulCore (cutt.ly/SoulCoreArticle—case sensitive).

Now they offer workout DVD’s (including sets for those who need the assistance of a chair), digital downloads and a streaming subscription. Plus SoulCore-trained instructors offer in-person classes in 39 states, including two locations in the archdiocese (and three sites internationally!). For more information, go to soulcore.com.

‘Sound and blameless’

The above resources and ideas hardly scratch the surface of improving body, mind and soul. Maybe these suggestions will help, or at least start the process of considering how you might focus on these three intricately tied components this year and going forward.

Meanwhile, in the words of St. Paul: “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes 5:23). †

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