How to stay healthy spiritually

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

"Stay healthy!" How? "Eat the right kind of food, and exercise!" This message we hear over and over again almost every day in various ways. Whether we listen to it and follow its advice is another matter for a later discussion!

Stay healthy by eating the right kind of food, and exercise: That is good advice for our bodily health. Stay healthy is also good advice for our spiritual health, for keeping our spiritual life healthy, the life which God gave us at our Baptism, to be nurtured, strengthened and increased until it bursts forth at human death into eternal life.

How do we stay healthy spiritually? In a similar way as we do with bodily health: eating the right kind of food and exercise.

Well, what is the right kind of food for our spiritual health? The food is, in fact, a Person, the Person of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who took on our human nature, all of it except sin, and Who suffered, died and rose again in order to save us from slavery to sin and eternal death and, instead, to lead us to our promised inheritance, eternal life!

How does the Lord Jesus nourish us? How does He become the right kind of food whereby we are kept healthy in our spiritual life? He feeds us with His very self in the Holy Eucharist. He Himself is the bread of life. Did we really listen to what He was saying to us moments ago in the Gospel passage? "I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

Where do we find this nourishment we so desperately need? In the Eucharist, which is both sacrament and sacrifice. A sacrament, as we recall, is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give us His grace, a share in His divine life. The sign in the Holy Eucharist is bread and wine, signs of nourishment. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are absolutely changed into the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ! Notice that He comes to us precisely under the signs of nourishment in order to be our spiritual food. The Eucharist also makes present here and now the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. The grace of every sacrament finds its source in Christ's Death on the Cross. So, we rightly say: The Eucharist is a sacrificial banquet.

Stay healthy - eat the right kind of food. Well, in order to nourish, sustain and increase our spiritual health, we need to be fed with the Eucharistic Jesus Christ, at least once a week, every week, on a Saturday evening or Sunday. As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches: "... by uniting man with Christ through grace, (the Eucharist) strengthens his spiritual life, as spiritual food and spiritual medicine, according to Psalm 104, verse 15, That bread strengthens man's heart. ..." (cf. Magnificat, Aug. 2015, p. 125). Saint Thomas Aquinas also says, "Spiritual food is necessary for the spiritual life to such an extent that without it, the spiritual life cannot be sustained" (cf. Ibid., p. 5).

Remember, we too get weary and tired like Elijah in today's first reading. Yes, sometimes, it is bodily fatigue, but more often it is emotional or psychological or spiritual. We become frustrated, unnerved, distraught. To use a popular phrase, we are "fed up." Like Elijah, we too say: "This is enough, O Lord!" But the Lord Jesus replies: "Get up and eat, else the journey (of this life) will be too long for you." And if we do listen to and follow His advice, we too are inwardly strengthened by the food that is the Eucharist, and we can journey with renewed spiritual energy towards our eternal home.

Stay healthy by eating the right kind of food, and exercise. Well, what is the exercise needed in our spiritual life? Prayer and penance. So, do we pray every day, that is, do we open our minds and hearts to God, seeking to be in touch with Him? As we wake up? As we prepare for sleep? At meals? Do we make time to be with Him every day, for five minutes, at least? Just like making time for bodily exercise is key to our health, so is making time to be with the Lord, key to our spiritual health.

The other form of spiritual exercise is penance: a form of self-discipline which frees our will to respond to the Lord's invitation to follow Him. Penance can take a variety of formats, like voluntarily abstaining from a food or drink we really like on Friday, or, spending less time on our smartphones or tablets so as to spend more time with real people, like family or co-workers.

Yes, stay healthy by eating the right kind of food, and exercise! For us believers, the food we need is the Lord Jesus, especially in the Holy Eucharist, and the exercise we must undertake is prayer and penance. Whatever the past may have been like, begin anew today!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015