Like many Americans, I’ve struggled with my weight for years. Occasionally, I’ll lose weight but eventually I always seem to gain it back. A couple of years ago I got more committed to weight loss than I have ever been and over the course of just over 7 months, I lost over 90 pounds. During this time, I really went to school on nutrition. I taught myself the ins and outs of BMR and cellular energy production, phytonutrients and monounsaturated fats. I even fancied getting a job as a nutritionist as I had learned so much already that any certification would be a snap.
Weight-loss is often a spiritual journey and unfortunately for me, my spirituality got lost in this process. I was becoming overcome by what I now know to be toxic masculinity. Too much testosterone. Too much “gym bro” mentality. I’m glad to say that I got away from that dangerous mindset but not before leaving my weight-loss journey in the process. It’s complicated, as these things are, but the short version is that I got more spiritual and more mentally healthy but regained those 90 lbs in the process. However, I never forgot all the things I learned.
Fast forward to today. Several of my work friends are beginning weight-loss journey’s of their own. They are aware of the tidbits of insight I have to give and so they ask me regularly about nutrition, exercise, and short term goals. I’m happy to help, of course, but I’ve come to realize a strange dichotomy as I do. There I sit, eating Cheetos and drinking soda while lecturing a cadre of newly healthy conscious dieters on which salad dressings are the lowest sugar and what kind of exercise plan they should be on. There is a reason that fitness coaches, as a rule, are not morbidly obese. No one would take a 400 lb man seriously about cardio or “fat free” vs “lite” for the same reason they wouldn’t take a homeless man’s word on diversifying a stock portfolio. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding as they say. Only because I have very close and kind work friends would they listen to a word I have to say.
This illustrates a very important point. You can “know” a thing but it is different to “grok” a thing. Perhaps another word you could use instead of grok is “gnosis.” Regardless, the point is the same. Saint James said, “You believe in God and this is well but the demons believe and tremble.” No one would accuse a demonic spirit of being at one with The One and at the very least would agree the relationship is largely adversarial. There is a difference between intellectual knowledge and making that knowledge, or gnosis, a part of your being. Demons know of God and His Power but they tremble before it as vanquished foes. A fat man at work knows what calorie total will result in weight-loss for an overweight coworker but shows no indication of eating with such restrictions himself. Priests can lecture the laity on the ins and outs of theology and the history of the Catholic tradition but if their lives are not ones filled with prayer and ritual, spiritual pursuit and spiritual growth, they will be “as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”
A priest without a spiritual life is like a morbidly obese personal trainer. On some level, no matter how accurate or in-depth his or her knowledge may be, the proof is in the pudding. If you don’t live what you preach, and not only that, BE what you preach, your influence will be mitigated if not nullified entirely. That goes for not only your ability to help others but also yourself.
It goes without saying that having friends begin the process of watching what they eat and trying to replace cheeseburgers with cobb salads is inspiring and pushes me to start again on my weightloss journey. But more than that, it has inspired me to really think about what I mean when I call myself a seminarian on the path to receiving Major Orders. If that day comes and I lay prostrate before God’s Holy Altar, will I tremble as the demon’s do? Or in the midst of my unworthiness will I hear the still small voice that says I am forgiven?
Can I really expect to hear that voice if my God is a stranger to me who never hears me pray? Hears me weep for the evil of the world? Hears me call upon the Name of His Son? Sees me battle the forces of darkness by serving my fellow man with humility?
There is more to being a priest than giving the Eucharist.
The Eucharist never ends.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”