Friday, April 24, 2009

Exercising is good....for the Spirit!

It seems to me that most of us are aware that regular physical exercise increases one's stamina and can improve one's physical conditioning. My cardiologist insists that I spend more time with physical exercise and less time eating. Well, he did say I just need to change some of those eating habits and that just walking twenty minutes briskly per day might add to one's life ."However, rigorous exercise is better" ,he said. But again I knew that.

There are hundreds of exrecises to get us in shape for all kinds of things.Were you aware that Saint Ignatius of Loyola authored something which he calls the Spiritual Exercises?

One of these exercises Ignatius labeled as the "Examen" ( This exercise helps one reflect on the events,the people one has met and the thoughts one has had during the course of a day.Then one can explore where and how God was present.Though I have been aware of and practicing this exercise for years, this expereince of the Examen has been transformed,so to speak, since my CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery)last August. In the past there were some very difficult periods where God or any good seemed to be quite absent from my life.Though now it seems as though that my surgery opened more than my heart .It opened up my spirit.I have learned that God has never been absent, I just haven't been present to God's presence.

Ignatius has become my "exercise trainer" and I am beginning to experience some serious "burn." I am grateful for the "Second Chance" at getting myself in shape. This was particularly evident when the other day I was having a series of negative stress-filled experiences. I couldn't get my "self" out of this funk or circumstances but then something happened within the blink of an eye and the beat of my heart.Let me explain.

The receptionist at the college office where I work interupted a conversation I was having with a co-worker. She said a student was here to see me.He didn't have an appointment and he wasn't even my student. Annoyed, I responded."Does this person have a name?" The receptionist said "Yes, he told me to tell you that his name is 'Thess' ." Without a second breath I knew right away who it was. I only knew of one person in my life who had that nickname. I repeated outloud his full name and the receptionist said "Yes, that's him!" She brought the man to my office and it was there I was reunited with this man who was a student of mine thirty odd years ago at another college.We hugged and talked as if it were only last week that we last saw each other. I introduced this former student to a current adult student of mine who provided me another "surprise" and gift. My current student recalled that my father had worked at a place called Best Foods that was now defunct. He said he was at an old Best Foods location earlier and he picked up a "Best Foods" pen just for me. Did I mention I say a daily prayer to and for my dad who passed almost thirty years ago? That gift of a pen with "Best Foods" printed on the side was as if my dad was reaching out saying that he is listening. I was moved that this current student had recalled stories I had told his class about my father and work.After my farewell to the reunion with my former student and a "thank you" to my current student I went on to the next unexpected gift as I was about to go and "teach" my next class.

I had asked my "Sociology of Work" students to write personal mission statements for themselves(what are thetr beliefs, values, how they want to be known and remembered etc.)The plan was then to review this statement and to explore any relationship it had their own personal career goal and resume. I had read one of the statements ahead of time and was moved as it spoke about improving one's relationship with God and something about reflecting this relationship by loving and serving others.I had silently wondered"I don't have a priest in this class, do I ?" Then at the beginning of class I put together the paper with a name and face and prior class discussions. At the break I called the busness suit cladded student aside and queried about his spiritual type personal mission. He shared that in a month he was off to join the Franciscan order. I was more humbled and filled with admiration than I was taken back by his comments.His story reminded me of Fr. James Martin SJ who went from being an investment banker to becoming a Jesuit .(See Fr. Martin's story in "In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience "(Sheed & Ward: 2000.) When we returned to class my prescribed lesson plan drifted to a collaborative enthusiastic exchange about self actualization and doing what we love and what we are called to do.

"At the Day of Judgment we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how holy we have lived."— Thoma A' Kempis Imitation of Christ: Book I, ch. 3

[This experience of meeting Thess, the gift of the pen and my student's vocation and subsequent class dicussion helped me recall reading another one of James Martin's book's "Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints" (Paulist, 2006.)]I felt I have been given a lot to think about and to be grateful for. I read somewhere that the term vocation comes from the Latin "vocare"- "to listen to the voice within."]

The next morning during my pre-dawn reflective "Examen" time it was quite obvious where God was in my life the previous day. It was time to begin my spritual workout .The three uplifting incidents at the close of the evening before provided a quiet illumination on the graces of my second chance.It was not quite light yet when I spent the time in a silence only to be broken by the sound on a morning bird greeting a new day. (I had a sudden urge to dance...You know dancing is considered to be a great form of exercise for the heart and the spirit!)

Post Script:
Years ago when I had the privelege to witness a good friend taking his final vows as a Jesuit there was a special liturgy held in his honor. During this Mass a nun performed a spiritual slow jazz-ballet type dance in celebration. My youngest,Leigh, who was about 5 or so at the time, bolted out from the congregation to dance with the nun during the Mass. An older more reserved priest became anxious and signaled to gather up my daughter before it got out of hand. Was he worried that everyone would start dancing?

I didn't really realize until recently how special that incident was!! Thank you...Leigh, Nancy and Lou!

Post Post Script

My wife and I went down to Philly to attend a Sorority function with Leigh at St. Joseph's University last Sunday. After the function we went off to relax in Leigh's apartment. I put on TV and a neat movie about a real "Second Chance" person,Jim Morris, was on,"The Rookie." Of course one of my favorite flicks. Jim Morris, a high school teacher and baseball coach,was given the opportunity later in his life to take a shot at playing major league baseball. He sought some advice from his father about taking a chance to play major league basball so late in life. The father quotes Jim's grandfather "It's ok to do what you want to do,but there comes a time to do what you are meant to do." I asked my wife it were me would she mind me taking off for a second chance. Leigh and I looked at her... waiting for her answer.

Post Post Post Script

Coincidentally I read the following quote from St.Catherine of Siena on her Feast Day of April 29,2009
" If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the world on fire"

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