Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Catholicism and Bodybuilding: Friends or Foes?

"The Church, without any doubt whatever, approves of physical culture, if it be in proper proportion" Pope Pius XII

The current culture of bodybuilding and hyper-fitness is ravaged by narcissism and egos big enough to pay back our nation's debt. Part of the problem of the current culture is that it decided to choose the incorrect ideologies for the sport at its beginnings. Many faith-filled people on the outside looking in would write off the sport entirely, something i can't say that I would fault them for. But the sport and the heart of the lifestyle does have good within it. Many bodybuilders, Mike Mentzer for example, have endeavored to bring philosophy, reason and intelligence into the sport but the mainstream bodybuilding media saw him and most like him as a kook. Bodybuilding in its truest and purest form is about beauty and discipline. Beauty of the body and and discipline of the will. As creatures of God we are meant to realize our full human potential. We have a vast array of talents and abilities that our loving Creator infused into us, reasoning, logic, sympathizing, and (by far the most important) holiness, are all given to us as goals to be achieved in order to become more and more worthy of heaven. Physical fitness and health are also God-given and therefore meant to help us get to heaven.

I think first I need to explain what kind of bodybuilding I am speaking of. The freakish bodybuilders of today do not exhibit the beauty of the body. Grace, athleticism, and proper proportion have all but left the current Mr. Universe competitions or most any other bodybuilding competitions. What was meant to portray the human body at its physical peak has become the slanderous and outrageous need for more size, most of the time at the expense of actual health. While I am not for the displaying of male or female bodies for people to gawk at, reaching your physical pinnacle is a beautiful and wonderful thing. The sport of bodybuilding has taken a very ugly turn to the immodest. When I speak of bodybuilding please do not think that the current ogres of the fitness world define the true heart of the sport, the philosophy behind the mud is golden. The ancient Greeks as well as the great artists like Michelangelo had a much better understanding of the role of human physical beauty and the need to try for the best.
“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” -Socrates

In all things we are meant to strive to be the absolute best we can be. Knowledge of truth, love of God, and love of neighbor are not only supposed to be the desires of our hearts we were made to strive for perfection in all of these divine and beautiful things. And such it is with the body, we are meant to want to be beautiful or handsome. The true philosophy and heart of what bodybuilding is has nothing to do with men in Speedos chock full of injected testosterone and human growth hormone. What real bodybuilding is about is the striving for perfection. Being that we are all made up of a mind, a soul, and a body, and true balance derives from the continual up-reach towards heaven of all three, our bodies must be on that celestial ladder just as much as our minds and souls should be. Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen once said, 'Peace is not a passive, but an active virtue.' Our bodies will never have peace unless we are actively pursuing the peace we crave which will only come about when we have full control of our passions and a healthy and active exercising life can help us achieve that temperance. "For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body"- Ephesians 5:29

There are numerous stories of young men that were living a life of debauchery and crime and through the lifestyle of bodybuilding were able to get out of the rut that their sins had placed them in. "The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back." - Henry Rollins (Former Competitive Bodybuilder) If we as Catholics were able to harness that ability of weight lifting to help young men and women to continually strive for a life of perfection, not only in their bodies, but in their souls and minds, we could have a generation of balanced and value-hearted individuals. We should never idolize physical perfection but, "I think the time is right for a "theology of bodybuilding" as well: for greater appreciation and deeper understanding of the body's capacity for strength, endurance, and robust fitness, to serve as a dynamo of charity toward our neighbor and for the greater glory of God." - Dr. Kevin Vost, Fit for Eternal Life. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's motto, 'Verso l'alto' meaning 'to the top' applied not only to be able to climb mountains but to strive for Christian perfection in all things should be the motto for anyone wanting to try out bodybuilding.

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