In basically all of the developed world obesity is a growing crisis. People—adults and, sadly, children too—are getting fatter and becoming considerably less healthy. It’s a huge problem, and it’s getting worse. By most accounts I’ve read it’s a medical crisis of greater scope and scale than even the worst kinds of cancer or disease.
We are getting fatter, and it’s killing us.
Sadly, the causes are all too well known and stupidly simple. Highly processed food and a movement away from eating honest, down-to-earth meals as a family unit can be linked directly to our current epidemic. A culture that values accomplishments, running around, and productivity over nutrition and slowing down has got us exactly what we deserve.
Instead of taking the time to cook a meal together and eat genuine food made from ingredients we can pronounce, touch, and see we rush around filling our schedules with unnecessary and unimportant things, grabbing meals to go or snacking way too much.
We could, if we got down to it, eat a lot better. Prioritize things differently. Get in shape.
And, spiritually, it’s just the same.
In our busy lives it’s often those simple spiritual practices—which should be our daily touchstones—which get crowded out when the appointments and activities pile up. It’s daily prayer, it’s keeping our eyes open to how God wants to lead us, it’s stretching out a helping hand to our neighbours.
It’s these things which are pushed to the fringes when we get busy.
In the same way that when eating well goes out the window we become less healthy, when our spiritual discipline begins to slacken we become less holy.
Thankfully, the Catholic Church knows exactly what we need. And the metaphor of eating well, exercise, and physical health is nearly perfect because what the Church prescribes for our spiritual health is just the same.
Eat well and exercise—by going to Sunday Mass.
At a purely basic level, the Mass is both a physical exercise and meal. After all, there’s a tired joke about Catholic calisthenics—the fact that we love to stand up, sit down, and kneel. And then there’s Communion which is actually food, so we’re not too far off here and in the same way that we need to eat right and exercise in order to stave off obesity we need to eat right and exercise in the context of the Holy Mass to be spiritually robust and healthy too.It’s important, first, to know what’s happening in Mass and why we even go. To this end, there are lots of excellent things to read and watch—I’ve written about it before—but, at a fundamental level, we need to realize that the Mass is, as Catholic Christians, our highest form of spiritual exercise.
The Cathecism of the Catholic Church describes the Eucharist as the “center” and “the most intense expression” of our Catholic faith. Elsewhere it’s called the “source and summit.” This is hardly hyperbole because what is happening in the Mass, while theologically and spiritually deep, is also startlingly simple.
It is our spiritual exercise; it is the way in which God makes us more like Him.
And, here, it’s quite clear to see why the Catholic Church says we must go to Mass every Sunday. Because, like a good exercise and eating regime if we don’t follow it closely we aren’t going to reap the same rewards. If I exercise once a month I will get stronger at a much slower rate than if I exercise once a week or once a day.
The same applies to my spiritual health, too.
In her wisdom the Catholic Church encourages us to go to Mass at least once a week not because the Pope and bishops are seeking to enforce ridiculous, baseless, and draconian rules on the Catholic faithful but because, hey, they know what’s best for our spiritual health.
Exactly what is happening when we prayer along with the priest, when we kneel, when we sing, and when we receive Communion is hidden in the mystery of the sacrament but we know this much, because Jesus told us, that it is for our good to make us more like God.
In theological terms we call this deification—making us more like Christ—and this is the ultimate goal of the Christian life. This is what God created us for; this is what he intended.
So, in the same way that the solution to the obesity epidemic in the West is easily discerned, the solution to our spiritual malaise is pretty obvious too. And, like the advice of good and reasonable doctors this world over, the advice of the Church is startlingly simple. Eat well and exercise. Go to Mass, not because we have to and ought to go, but because it’s truly the best exercise and the best meal for our spiritual selves that we can come by.