Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
The news last week that John Paul II practiced various mortification and the totally predictable tongue clucking from the “That’s just… just sick!” crowd prompts me to offer a little excerpt from my chapter on the Holy Rosary from Volume 3 (Miracles, Devotion, and Motherhood) from Mary, Mother of the Son:
The Scourging at the Pillar
In the Rosary, we are invited to contemplate the reality of redemptive suffering in the mysterious Scripture that “with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). In our culture, that’s supposed to be the same thing as saying “We are invited to contemplate sick, masochistic weirdness.” For our culture appears, at first glance, to have no place for redemptive suffering. Such suffering is, we are sure, a relic from the Dark Ages when the Church was obsessed with pain as being somehow meritorious. Today, we are assured, things are different. Here, for instance, is how the modern mind works:
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In Hollywood’s competitive climate, accolades often go to performers who either pack on the pounds (think Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones or Charlize Theron in “Monster”) or let their frames waste away (Christian Bale in “The Machinist”).
There’s been another category at the movie theaters recently: the phenomenally fit.
Jessica Biel was a vampire slayer with deltoids to die for in “Blade: Trinity”. [Biel] kept a close eye on portion sizes and drank plenty of water. [Beil] recalled that at the height of her training, women pulled her aside to ask, “What’s your secret?” It was a question that Biel identified with — and resented just a bit.
“I was, like, ‘Secret? You want the secret?’ The secret is, there is no secret,” Biel said. “There’s no pill, there’s no diet, there’s no magic drink.”
The trainers agreed to describe their clients’ workouts for their big screen roles to show that there’s nothing easy — or particularly mysterious — about getting in shape, no matter who you are.
And you don’t have to spend as much time in the gym as the stars do, they said, adding that an hour’s time, five to six days a week, will make a difference.
Before her latest role as a take-no-prisoners vampire slayer in the new movie “Blade: Trinity,” Biel, 22, already had a body most women would covet. [Yet she not only had to get] into shape for a grueling, physical shoot in which the actress would perform her own stunts, [she had] to transform her lithe athletic body into that of a hyper-stylized vampire assassin with an hourglass figure.
First, there was weight training — something she’d never really done before — and she had to rev up her cardio activity with martial arts and kickboxing.
The toughest tasks… were ... torturous jumping squats, which tightened up her legs and core muscles.
In all, she was working out and training about two hours a day, five to six days a week, including her fight training for the movie.
“I was just coming home and crashing. I had never really worked out that hard before. I don’t think I dreamt once, I was just so tired,” Biel said. “I was thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”
A few weeks into the new regimen, Biel felt her body changing from the inside, but fretted that she wasn’t seeing similar changes on the outside.
You see, in the Dark Ages Jesus fasted and subjected Himself to physical hardship in order to prepare for His all-too-real confrontation with the Evil One. In our enlightened age, however, people fast and subject themselves to physical hardship in order to pretend they’re confronting the Evil One. In the Dark Ages, people like Paul could rejoice in their sufferings for the sake of Christ’s body. But today we rejoice in our sufferings for the sake our bodies.
In short, the culture which has given us the Stairmaster has little room for sneering at the asceticism of our ancestors. When we think it’s important, we can pursue asceticism with all the zeal of St. Francis rolling in the snow. The difference lies in what we think is an important goal. The goal of the saints, carrying their crosses, is union with God Who carried His cross. The goal of our culture is toned abs.