Holy Exercise

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

May 19, 2004


            At age 54 I am trying more than ever to fight flabbiness, both spiritual and physical. It isn’t easy. One technique is to combine prayer with exercise.

            Now that the weather is nice, I have started doing “rosary walks” in the early evenings. I walk around our little town center for just as long as it takes me to say a rosary, usually 15 minutes or so. I get just about a mile in by the end of the fifth decade.

Rosary walks are peaceful. They also remind me to pray for my neighbors along my walk. I pray for the clients and workers at the Catholic Charities office next door. I pray for the guests at our homeless shelter and their volunteers. I pray for the police at the State Police barracks. I pray for the people at the county courthouse and the post office. I pray for all travelers as I pass the Holiday Inn. I pray for fire fighters and EMT workers as I pass the firehouse. I pray for the residents of the little public housing complex along the way.  As I round back on to Main Street, I see our red brick church, and pray for all our parishioners.

Praying makes the mile go faster. I also feel a more at peace if I pray and walk than if I just walk around town. It is walking with a purpose.

There are two problems with these rosary walks.

One is that like many American towns we do not have sidewalks everywhere. Sidewalks start and stop for no reason and often dump pedestrians out into traffic.

The other problem is that people keep stopping and asking me if I want a ride. Americans don’t believe anyone wants to walk.

A variation on the “rosary walk” is the Hail Mary swim. The credit for this one goes to my sister Maureen who developed this at her local public pool. She would try to time her strokes so she could swim one length per Hail Mary.

Since I don’t have a pool nearby, I use the “Our Father stair steppers” at the gym. I say an Our Father and a Glory Be for every 10 calories I burn on the machine. If I am on the stair machine for 30 minutes, this means 30 sets of prayers. It makes the time go faster and takes my mind of the terrible soap operas and talk shows on the TV at the gyms. Maybe I should pray for someone to exorcise the Jerry Springer show from the airwaves.

Since we should combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise, I also try holy crunches and leg lifts. For this I use the opening lines of the Liturgy of the Hours. These prayers begin, “Oh God come to my assistance. Oh Lord make haste to help me.”

This is a good prayer to say with resistance exercises. On the way up I say, “Oh God come to my assistance.” On the way down, “Oh Lord, make haste to help me.” It helps with the timing and the sentiment is honest.

Another “spiritual exercise” is the repeated genuflection. I go across the gym floor in a series of genuflections, first right knee, then left knee. It is harder than it looks and I am too out of breath for words. I just try to think the name of “Jesus” and remind myself that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend. 

In a flabby world, it is important to remember that there is more to fitness than thinness. Physical discipline can also lead us to spiritual discipleship, fighting flab of the body and the soul.