The world’s confusion about what it means to be human is the motivation behind Father James Mallon’s latest media venture. The 44-year-old priest of the Archdiocese of Halifax, Canada, wants to lend a hand to those who have misconceptions about the human body as it relates to the soul. Too many people, he believes, have been taken in by a dualism that seeks to separate the physical from the spiritual.
Father Mallon wants to emphasize that God created each of us as a united body and soul, a fact not even the grave will have the last word over. Despite separation at death, our bodies will rejoin our souls before the Last Judgment. In the meantime, the pastor of St. Benedict parish in Halifax points out that we can use our bodies to know, love and serve our Creator.
Father James Mallon spoke of his new EWTN series, Cross Training, which made its debut March 6, with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
What was the inspiration for the Cross Training series?
There’s a real crisis of anthropology in the world today. Many don’t know what it means to be human. Instead of seeing themselves as embodied spirits, as being their bodies, they consider their bodies to be extraneous to their true selves. They think they merely “have” a body that will be discarded or exchanged. This explains why so many people believe in reincarnation today. A biblical anthropology, on the other hand, shows that we are our bodies and that we cannot exchange our bodies as we would our clothing.
Even before the recent Facebook announcement about having 50 different gender options, there was a pervasive confusion about what it means to be a male or a female. If I am not my body, and choice rules the day, I can define my gender exactly how I want, and my embodiment has absolutely nothing to contribute to the matter.
Even though the Church has an accurate and beautiful anthropology, it is not uncommon even for Catholics to be in the dark about it. The resurrection of the body might be the best example. I run into Catholics all the time who are shocked to hear that the bodies of the blessed in heaven will be raised and reunited with their souls.
Cross Training is meant to show that, as human beings, we are embodied spirits and that our bodies are not secondary to who we are; they are an essential part of who we are. Therefore, everything physical has a spiritual dimension and vice versa. This impacts questions of human sexuality, bioethics and how we address the question of health. This latter topic is addressed in Cross Training.
How is Cross Training different from your past series on EWTN, Dogmatic Theology?
The major difference, from a production standpoint, is that Dogmatic Theology was made by the John Paul II Media Institute for showings at individual parishes. We had no intention of broadcasting it, but we were approached by EWTN to do that. Cross Training, on the other hand, was made from the beginning with the intention of being aired on EWTN.
From a content standpoint, there are some obvious differences. Dogmatic Theology uses the oftentimes obsessive concern people have for their pets today as leverage for teaching basic truths of the Christian faith. Cross Training taps into an aspect of our culture — the fitness craze — to give a Catholic perspective, but it has a very different approach.
I was the only host for the first series, whereas I’m one of four hosts for the second series. The other three hosts are Ronnie Lunn, coordinator of youth ministry here at St. Benedict parish; Marilyn Cipak, a registered dietician; and Corey Robinson, a former member of the Canadian National Wrestling Team.
Each of the hosts brings a different perspective to the show. Ronnie has a personal trainer and power-lifting background, so he goes into detail about different muscles and other aspects of physical fitness. Marilyn specializes in proper eating, and Corey has a powerful conversion story, not to mention an advanced athletic background.
Each of our 13 Cross Training episodes focuses on a different topic, but all the episodes are centered on the truth that we as human beings are embodied spirits. Some topics covered are motivation, stress, patience, vital rest and outdoor life. While each episode has a different topic, they are all presented in the same basic format that includes a nutrition, exercise, prayer and book component.
We wanted to make sure that we explain the proper motivation for physical health. One can pursue it out of vanity, the appearance of being fit; or he can do it as an end in itself, which negates the spiritual dimension of the human person. The purpose of replacing junk food with healthy food is not simply to lose weight or to be a good machine; it is done in order to love God completely.
It’s interesting that you include nutrition, because the topic of gluttony seems to be one of the most neglected in the Church today.
The world today sees nothing wrong with disciplining oneself for the sake of athletics. Engaging in an austere nutrition and exercise regimen for the purpose of winning an Olympic medal is seen as a noble venture. Do the same regimen with a spiritual purpose, however, and the world wants to lock you up as insane. We see the material benefits of the former and not for the latter, so the world assumes that something must be suspect in it.
Yet the Church has a long history of corporal austerity for a higher purpose.
We can go all the way back to New Testament times, when St. Paul wrote of an imperishable crown. In 1 Corinthians 9, he stated that athletes exercise discipline in order to win a perishable crown, but we Christians exercise discipline to win an imperishable crown. Then he wrote, “Thus, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
We spent about nine months filming and editing the Cross Training episodes. It was a lot of work and a lot of laughs, and it was all volunteer — no money was made by any of us — but when all the episodes were completed in December, we could look back with some satisfaction. Now, we hope that many viewers will reap abundant benefits from the series.
How did you discern a call to the priesthood?
In my youth I never, ever considered becoming a priest. I believed in God, but my daily life didn’t have a vital connection to what that belief should mean. My family moved from Scotland to Canada when I was 13, and I proceeded to get into the trouble that many teens do.
When I got into serious enough trouble to attract the attention of the police, my father forced me to go on a weekend retreat. That was a life-changing weekend for me because I really experienced God’s love and got closer to him. The only problem was: Once the retreat was over, I didn’t know what to do. Since there was no one to disciple me, what I gained from the retreat didn’t have a chance to blossom.
In my late teens, I met a young Protestant lady who became my girlfriend for a few years. She would ask me questions about what I believed. Her questions led me into searching for an answer to what it actually meant to be a Catholic, and I slowly discovered the riches of our Catholic faith.
On Easter Sunday of the first year of my undergraduate studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, I had a profound experience in which it was made very clear that God wanted me to become a priest. It was unmistakable, and yet I basically said to God, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I didn’t want to embrace the call. It took me a whole year to accept the call, and I’m glad that I finally did so. I love my vocation to the priesthood.
Now that all the Cross Training episodes have been completed, what activities fill your calendar?
Aside from the typical duties of a parish priest — which I love to do, by the way — I’ve been traveling around to speak, mostly about parish revitalization. We need to change our model of pastoral care from one of maintenance to one of making missionary disciples. We can’t be content with doing general upkeep; we need to train and equip parishioners to take the graces they’re given and go into the world to share them with others.
A natural outgrowth of my favorite speaking topic is a new book that will be released later this year. It’s called Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish. Long before the book comes out — on April 5, to be exact — I will be speaking on the topic of the family and the New Evangelization at the EWTN Family Celebration in Vancouver.
When discussing the renewal of the Church, some people have talked about changing our theology. We don’t need to change our theology; we need to start living it. That requires that we change our own attitudes and ways of living, which is always more difficult than trying to change others or changing things outside of ourselves. We have to remember, though, that there is nothing quite as wonderful and beautiful as the Catholic faith lived to the fullest.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.