Since I’ve lived alone, I’ve been trying to establish routines that will help my physical and emotional health. I try to run/exercise three times a week, go grocery shopping once a week, eat healthy, get up at the same time everyday, clean my house once a week, meet regularly with friends, etc. (keyword: TRY!) I’ve been realizing that it really does help my mental health/moods when I regularly take care of myself and of my home.
Something that really helps me other than the obvious learning discipline, is taking pleasure in the small things. Although eating is very pleasurable in restaurants, I am learning to take more pleasure in a homemade soup, simple brown rice and fresh cheese. Why? Pleasure isn’t the main purpose of eating. The main purpose is to feed my body and get nutrients… and learning to cook simple soups and healthy food regularly is more fulfilling of this purpose in the long run. I learned this purpose of pleasure from Janet Smith, in her CD “Contraception, why not?”. She explains that the two purposes of sex are union of the spouses and procreation… not pleasure. Should it be a pleasurable act? Of course! However, pleasure is the incentive. She explains that pleasure is associated to very important things so that we’ll naturally want to do them more often. Sex and eating are both very important for our physical survival (in order to reproduce and eat), so pleasure is naturally associated to make sure we do these things more often. The fact is, though, that the important things are sex and eating, not really the pleasure.
In the Catholic world view, we learn to see the invisible behind the visible. We see that we are not only bodies, but body and soul. There are spiritual realities coexisting in the physical world. In addition to physical health, we have spiritual health to attend to. Our soul can be decaying with sin or it can be cleansed, nurtured and grown by God. Catholics call this a “state of grace”. In physical health, we don’t see results right away (only after exercising and eating well for awhile) and likewise in spiritual health we need routines and consistency for it to really flourish.
Analogous to physical health, spiritual life must be fed (by Jesus in the Eucharist), cleansed (by Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and in relationship (prayer).
“What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh ‘given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,’ preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death, when it will be given to us as viaticum.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1392)
Also analogous to physical health, in spiritual health pleasure is an incentive, not a purpose. We don’t always “feel” better right away after receiving communion, but it’s nourishing the invisible in us. Does it help if mass has amazing music, friendly people and a priest who is a great speaker? Of course, it’s more pleasurable. However, a mass without music or homily is just as valid. The purpose isn’t the pleasure (that’s what helps you do it)… the purpose is getting fed. Does it help if the priest in confession is friendly and gives you great advice? Of course, but it’s just as valid if he’s not. What matters is that you’re getting cleansed. Does it help to have dynamic Bible studies and lively prayer movements in the Church? Of course, but most important is that your doing it.
I think routines help, but especially knowing the value and extreme importance of spiritual health is what will get me to nourish, cleanse and turn my soul towards God more often.