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Free & Fit Reflection - Ignatian Faith, Fitness & Formation by Tim Cheux

Free & Fit Reflection - Ignatian Faith, Fitness & Formation by Tim Cheux



This reflection will discuss who Saint Ignatius was, how the ethos of Ignatian Prayer relates to Sport and how Sport and Ignatian Spirituality can be compatible missionary focused bedfellows.

The context of this assignment will be on contemplative fitness and sports related meditations similar to a secular Yoga, Pilates or Exercise meditation, but with a Christian and Jesuit focus.

Who was Saint Ignatius?

Saint Ingnatius was an Irish Jesuit who, when he first became a Catholic convert, decided to try and build a faith and formational practice which would support those, who like himself, could not relate to traditional Catholic Spiritual Christian practices. Saint Ignatius was somebody who felt it was okay to recognize the difficulties of life confidently in awareness and understanding of Gods grace. Actively trusting and living out his faith, with appropriate prayers practices, which were considered by the Church of his day to be heretical, was essential for Saint Ignatius to discover best practice of how to discern, make practical life decisions and reading his Bible in more creative, innovative and deeper spiritual ways than ever before.

Saint Ignatius was so excited about his new found faith that he wanted to help others establish theirs as well. Ignatius wanted to share the reason why he had hope for the future. To teach others how to be Christian and how it was possible, to find accessible prayers and make them appropriate and applicable to ordinary everyday life. In his time Saint Ignatius prayers, including the Spiritual Exercises, were unknown and unrecognized by the Church. This ultimately led to his pursuit of ordination, theological education and seminary study. Much like the author of this paper, Saint Ignatius impactful work happened before his academic studies and was to enter seminary later in life at thirty seven years old.


We open in prayer to describe his life through a collect dedicated to his own Saints Day:

“Almighty God, who called Ignatius of Loyola to the service of your Divine Majesty and to seek you in all things; Give us also the grace to labor without counting the cost and to seek no reward other than knowing that we do your will; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. (Feast of Saint Ignatius, Accessed: Hoboken 2021).

Why does Ignatian Spirituality relate to Sports or Fitness?

The most significant Ignatian Spiritual leader of our day is the first Jesuit Pope St Francis. On reflection of this summers Olympics Pope Francis commented on how Sport and Spirituality can have a positive influence together.

“Indeed, the practice of sport stimulates one to healthily overcome oneself and one’s own selfishness and to train oneself in the spirit of sacrifice and … promotes loyalty in interpersonal relationships, friendship, and respect for rules (Ignatian Spirituality, Accessed: Hoboken, NJ. 2021).

The combination of Sport and Spirituality can be reflected through the Olympic ethos of the five core Olympic Values which mirror that of Christian values. In Luke 6: 27-28 Jesus is recorded as saying:

But I say to you who hear [Me and pay attention to My words]: Love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies, [make it a practice to] do good to those who hate you, 28 bless and show kindness to those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).

This Christ centered instruction also impacts our every day relationships, our respect for our fellow man and every sphere of society and those in our lives. Much like Ignatius, Jesus and the original founders of the Olympics want to love their neighbour.

Whether it is our lifting partner in the gym, or our corner person on the Boxing canvas or our personal coach on the running track they are their to support us. At times, they may seem like our enemy, but as soon as we switch on our

”game face” in competition very few secular people would consider their coaches, opponents or support staff their friends. As Christians, Jesuits like Saint Ignatius have to make a conscious effort to display strong ethical values around others to promote a safe, confident and comfortable environment. This is also true at the Olympics.

The Values, ethics and Jesuit outlook impacts their decision making. The core disciplines which matter most to fitness professionals, and most Jesuits, fall in line with the five Olympic Educational values. Rather than comparing them to a specific personal goal or fitness targets lets look at what values of being an Olympiad might be similar to a believer of Jesus Christ.

The five core Olympic values are:

Joy of Effort,

Fair Play,

Respect for Others;

Pursuit of excellence;

Balance between body, will and mind.

The Joy of effort would be similar to what a practicing Christian, as a shared faith and fitness spiritual virtue, could experience when they pray. For example, when Christians in Sport, a Sports Ministry in England, go to the field they employ a motto of ”Pray and Play” which involves praying for the game you are about to play in as a part of playing the game or spectating and watching the game. Praying before, after or during an activity helps Christians create a closer conversation with God and forges a way for open dialogue with God via prayers, petitions for healing miracles and also opportunities for God to speak directly to fitness athletes in real life everyday needs.

As noted again by Pope St Francis Sports and Spirituality values are closely linked:

“Sporting activity typically unites rather than divides. … When sport is regarded solely within economic parameters, or in terms of the achievement of victory at any cost, there is the risk of reducing athletes to mere merchandise through whom profit may be obtained. The athletes themselves enter into a mechanism that overwhelms them, causing them to lose sight of the true meaning of their activity. ”¦ Sport is harmony, but if the unrestrained pursuit of profit and success prevails, this harmony is lost. (Ignatian Spirituality, Accessed: Hoboken, NJ. 2021).”

So then how does Creative Spirituality inform a Faith & Fitness Formational Workout?

The Ignatian motto is marked by the infamous “JMJ” which is an abbreviation of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This is considered to be one of the core concepts of IgnatianSpirituality. To follow the lifestyles and examples of Jesus Christ and his human parents Mary and Joseph. This is best described as a Holy and Obedient lifestyle mirrored in Jesuit communities, lived out and personified in Saint Ignatius himself.

The relationship between a warm up, a workout preparation, could be considered an opening prayer or collect read at the start of liturgical said Sunday Morning Church service. This foundation could be considered in line with Jesus teaching on how to pray a basic concept practiced across all Christian communities similar to the start of an Olympic awards ceremony when a national anthem of the winning countries medals would be performed.

One other formational Christian practice which is celebrated across denominations is the practice of Holy Communion. The two concepts which define Christianity are Prayer and Communion. The Lords Prayer and the Lords Table. In the Olympics this could be considered the National Anthem and the Medal awards ceremony. Both two types of traditional celebrations across different expressions of humanity. Sports and Spirituality.

How does an Ignation practice of Prayer and Communion inform a Faith & Fitness Formational Workout?

When entering a gym or exercise venue we can easily gravitate towards our favorite apparatus; whether its the dumbbells, the treadmill, the bike, the pool or the sauna. We all look forward to going through our own favored fitness routines and rituals. Yet, when we consider sharing our apparatus or waiting in line for our turn we get a little bit more competitive. We seriously think about what we might be or might not be willing to do when it comes to self sacrifice in the gym.

The participation in Fitness and the practice of our own exercise routines are personal, specific and very unique to each individual’s background. The values we create in our workout environment can help positively to build others up or bring them down. The approach we should strive for is to honor both our personal physical goals and demonstrate a sign of respect for others through supporting their own goals and supporting them as part of our collaborative fitness community. The question is: how can we achieve both? The Bible teaches us to demonstrate love to your enemies the same as your friends, perhaps an alien concept to many fitness professionals or business owners. Similar to Saint Ignatius the author would like to share how the practices of Prayer and Communion could be used to build community through Sports and Outreach.

Jesus taught his Disciples how to pray, how to live a Christian life and how to encourage others to do likewise. Jesus was not content with being with just one other person, like a personal trainer with one fitness client, or a Pilates instructor with a large Saturday group exercise class. Instead when Jesus spoke, he tried to speak to large crowds and to perform miracles with all the Counselors and Religious authorities of his day present to show them what was possible . To display these Holy disciplines to non-Christians is a form of evangelism if you like.

The simplicity of life and sports can create some moments during an event or performance where the observer or spectator would be drawn to question who is Jesus. Whether a goal celebration or an end of season of party, in Jesus a truth of justice and hope for humanity can be found. Sometimes in the hope of converting people to the new Christian way of life we lose site of the here and now. Instead, to not neglect allowing others Into our homes and, offer hospitality we need to receive forgiveness ourselves and to not get caught up in contradictory values or rules

How do the Values of Sports and Christian complement each other?


In order to find faith in their own ability, sports athletes have to make room in their personal fitness routines so that they can make space to forgive their own enemy and their fellow human before they race again. Be it their fellow competitor or their own internal battle with themselves they have an overwhelming sense, in agreement with Olympic values, to greet one another at the end of a race, competition or meet to shake hands or embrace. Instead of holding grudges, fair play enables sports athletes the opportunity to receive forgiveness. In prayer time, as Christians, Jesuits can recite the words from the Lords prayer “Our Father in Heaven”.

Let us then today, whether Jesuit or Sports Person, or as it were in Jesus day Jew or Gentile, lets celebrate and take the opportunity to pray today! Let us give thanks and receive the Joy of Effort as we participate in a new fitness activity. Equally, the fair play part of the Olympic Spirit is important and helps make sure we do everything to ensure our safety in Sports and Spirituality.

By playing by the rules, sticking to similar corporate fitness goals of the community we live and share together we are inviting each other into a new of living as a part of being a part of special, chosen, highly favored and Sons and Daughters of God. Whether you are participating in Sport or Fitness can represent Jesus in our local Gym or Recreational Field. By following fair play, we can enter into Gods gates with thanks giving and rejoicing in knowledge of what hes done for us (dying on the Cross) and bring us into eternal life with Jesus.

The second practice the author would like to link to the Olympics is the practice of Holy Communion. At the Last Supper, before the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ, Jesus ate with the Disciples and prayed with them.

Now as they were eating Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the [new and better] covenant, which [ratifies the agreement and] is being poured out for many [as a substitutionary atonement] for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:26-28

By reciting the Lords prayer, by receiving Holy Communion and by meeting together regularly Christians are not like the rest of the world.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus replied to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ 40 The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

During the two weeks of the Olympics many athletes are operating under fair play and thus they automatically demonstrate respect for others. As Christians or Jesuits when we enter into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ we are reminded of his sacrifice, his salvation and his son Jesus Christ. People of the modern world who sympathies with Christianity are more inclined today to place their trust and faith in something bigger than themselves and who they are as simply being human. The concept of a higher being, the concept of heaven or the potential that a white bearded Christian God could exist is far more accessible at Christmas time.

In contrast to something bigger such as Christianity atheists and a growing population of non-Christian people would rather believe in something smaller than who they are such the mall, shopping centre, car, science, technology or economic and weather predictions) the differences are quite stark Both culturally and religiously (Carroll, 2006.)

Therefore, its important that we all meet together weekly, monthly or just under the Band stand as the practice of religious Worship meets every Sunday. As Saint Ignatius liked to share his faith, as practicing Christians, we need to begin to seize the day and hold tightly to the confession of our hope in Jesus without wavering. For He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]; and let us consider [thoughtfully] how we may encourage one another to love and to do good deeds, not forsaking our meeting together [as believers for worship and instruction], as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more [faithfully] as you see the day [of Christ’s return] approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Let us then, as Christians, put our first foot forward as the front foot as we interact, represent and participate not only in the Olympics, but in everyday life in our home town, county and country! We are reminded of the importance of Spiritual ground with these words from Scripture In Ephesians 6.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places. Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious]. So stand firm and hold your ground, having tightened the wide band of truth (personal integrity, moral courage) around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (an upright heart), and having strapped on your feet the gospel of peace in preparation [to face the enemy with firm-footed stability and the readiness produced by the good news]. Above all, lift up the [protective] shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

Ephesians 6:12-17

Conclusion

Some of the Questions we are left to Ponder include:

Where is your hope right now?

Do you feel lost like so many Olympic fans that watching on from the tv you are left without hope?

Do you know this hope you long for can be fulfilled where you are, but in a different location with Jesus Christ?

It helps us to know that we have hope for humanity through the Son of God. As we approach the end of the Olympics we are reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We can always return ever so gently to the resurrection and to the promise made to humanity through the Cross. In his words, poet John Morris, lets us contemplate, pause and silently meditate on the Cross.

True justice would have set Him free,

No crime or sin in Him was found.

Freely He went to Calvary

Only by cords of love was bound.

Hold back your vast angelic host

This Christ has come to save the lost.

In closing our time today the author would like to allow this opportunity for us to say a prayer together. It's perhaps not natural for you, perhaps it's not necessarily even essential to say it aloud and it's definitely not tradition for some, but while we are here you can at least repeat this prayer. So if you want, today you can accept a new hope, a new faith and a new love for which you can entrust your future.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Today you can make a new start. A fresh start. Its simple; if you believe in your heart that Jesus died, was resurrected and sacrificed for all believers, like you and me, you can have hope for the future. Many people have said a prayer like this throughout time and history. This prayer was for them and this prayer is also for you. You can say it silently in your heart, aloud after me or just agree by acknowledging in mind or word by declaring in agreement with me by saying “in Jesus name. Amen.”

Closing Prayer

Sacrificial and Gracious Jesus, bring us out of the depths of our flesh, restore our consciousness and release us into divine communion and intimate fellowship with your Holy Spirit as we pray in agreement that you died, raised us with you into eternal life and prepared a mansion for us with God in heaven. In your name we pray. Amen.

Bibliography

Ignatius of Loyola: From Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018: JULY 31: IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Priest, 1556 via Website. Accessed:

Hoboken, New Jersey. December 2nd. 2021

Ignatian Spirituality Website, Accessed: Hoboken, New Jersey. December 2nd. 2021

Website used:


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