How important is working towards longevity in our body when we have eternity and our soul to think about? What's the right balance?
Judging from recent headlines, it’s safe to say that we as a human race want to live longer:
“These 8 habits will add decades to your lifespan”
“This mysterious animal may be the key to human longevity”
“101-year-old who drives herself to work shares her longevity secrets”
This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Longevity myths have played a part in human culture since the dawn of humankind. And we have been searching for the fountain of youth since who knows when.
But how important is working towards longevity in our body when we have eternity and our soul to think about? How much time should we spend on our health — our diet and exercise routines for example — to help us live longer and better?
Our bodies are important
First, let’s remember is that our bodies are important. God created us with a body and a soul. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Much of his three years of ministry was spent healing the brokenness of people’s bodies. In addition, St. Paul reminds us that our sexuality is important, and that we should glorify God with our bodies. He said:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.1 Corinthians 6:19-20
St. John Paul II devoted more than 100 of his General Audiences to the topic of how our bodies reveal God.
If our body is important, it stands to reason we should take care of it, searching for wholeness and healing as needed. Our God wants us to be healed. Seeking medical answers and solutions to our mental and physical problems is good.
The quest to live longer is not a bad thing in and of itself. For example, adding antioxidants to our diet, decreasing stress where possible and doing some core strengthening all seem like doable additions to that can add value (and perhaps length) to our life. These steps don’t require massive life changes or time commitments.
How much is too much?
But our efforts to live longer can easily go too far, especially in a culture that ignores God and prioritizes bodily health and wellness over everything else. As a way to ponder whether we are spending too much time on our health and wellness, it might be helpful to check our motivations.
- Is our exercise routine and the work involved in following our diet mostly about taking care of ourselves? Or is it more about looking better than other people?
- Are we spending time seeking healing and health via routes congruent with our faith? Or are we pursuing New Age practices thatmight (even unintentionally) conflict with our faith?
- Are we using some practice that secular sources recommend for our health and well-being as a substitute for necessary spiritual practices? For instance, many books and health professionals promote mindfulness practices, but they should never be a substitute for prayer and prayerful meditation.
Finding a balance
So, what part should the search for health and longevity play in our lives as Catholics? It is a matter of finding the balance between knowing that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and knowing that we are not made for this world, but for the next. We have to believe that Jesus wants us to be healed, but that in the healing process we can’t become so self-centered that we lose our focus on loving others.
Just as moderation is necessary when enjoying the good things of the world (I’m looking at you, cheesecake), our health is a worthwhile goal, but it should never be all consuming.
Some resources that can help you find your balance
- John Paul II’s General Audiences on the Theology of the Body
- 5 alternatives to yoga that Catholics can try
- Fr. Mike Schmitz on a “Theology of Working Out”
- A helpful article on “Temperance and the Art of Eating”
- Where to find help when you are struggling with mental illness