Perhaps you have had the experience where in the midst of your career or vocation, some drastic and dramatic changes were made due to an overturn in leadership. Your world was turned upside down—relationships, expectations, career goals—and it affects everything in your life including your health. That was what 2017 brought for me. As a Roman Catholic priest, the focus of my life for the past 11 years has been to serve God and the church community that has been entrusted to me. Over the past five years, I served in the role as the Director of Vocations, which in the corporate world would be part of human resources. My role focused on assisting those entering “the company” or in certain cases, helping individuals when they would be “invited” to leave.
In the summer of 2017, our new Bishop, or the CEO, asked me to take on the administration of three other major departments in the Diocesan Offices, Director of Youth, Young Adult and College Campus Ministry. This led to the “roaming” part of my job; I would be on a plane to Chicago, drive down to Washington DC, up to Boston, or back in a plane over to Rome. Absorbing this change and the busy schedule that accompanied it affected my consistency of prayer, exercise, service to others, and the little bit of balance to see my family and friends. I did not respond well and my health was greatly affected.
Up until that point, I put a priority on health. I have an athletic background, and it was disturbing to me that it was suddenly being put on the back burner. I would bypass my time in the gym or a healthy meal to respond to a high priority email. The regular time I would make for training, a bike ride, or some other healthy outdoor activity would be replaced by an early meeting in the office, or a late afternoon board meeting. Grabbing convenient snacks, a slice of pizza, or a bowl of pasta was the easy solution. After a short time, I noticed my 46-year-old body was beginning to wear down. It became even more evident when I caved and purchased my first pair of elastic band slacks—a result of my growing waistline!
In November, I was asked to participate in a panel of other motivated, young adult Catholics to speak to students at a local high school a few days before Thanksgiving. All 2000 students were given the opportunity to meet men and women with life experiences that could help them benefit professionally as they grew older while remaining close to their faith. Little did I know that my encounter with Jackie Mulligan at this panel would change my life. Jackie’s expertise in nutrition and life coaching was undeniable. It became so attractive to me in the way she communicated to the students, but particularly in the way she was able to blend the language of health and faith, really resonated with me.
In the weeks that followed, our lives crossed a few times at different Catholic events and I finally asked for her assistance in getting me back on track. It was not unlike when people struggle in their faith journey and reach out to a priest in order to help them reset or become more grounded in their identity as beloved daughters and sons of God. Jackie’s response was similar. Her joy and passion were awesome; and she quickly invited me into her mission and journey. Jackie’s high level of expertise but also, her very clear and gentle ways of challenging and pushing a “client“ was exactly what I needed.
I wanted to be all in and also wanted to be at the finish line even though we were just beginning the adventure. Jackie’s approach was holistic, involving diet, training and rest, but she also asked me to monitor my prayer time, my stress levels, the times my body and my soul craved things. I was spending 60 minutes of quiet time in the chapel with the scriptures and a journal--and not to scandalize anyone, but incorporating ROMWOD stretching techniques in that sacred and holy time and place. It became a protective harbor where God was clearly working!
The transformation was occurring in my whole person. As a “Glory Days” athlete, I was hoping to see changes in my body composition quickly. I know I should not be worrying about the vain externals, but I am a work in progress. Jackie’s approach was systematic, and she kept reminding me to trust the process, be patient with myself and take it easy on myself. The effects of years’ worth of poor habits got me to where I was and it would take some time to undo that. This new rhythm of life allowed for the changes to occur first in my mental and spiritual realm. The stresses of the job were still there, but I was able to rationally respond to the needs and expectations, and then create healthy boundaries so I could rest, eat better and always find time for some activity or exercise during the day.
When we began the process, I was quick to look at old ways of gauging progress and health such as a number on the scale, waist size, or body physique. I was being converted to look at the victories in great sleep, incredible prayer time, energy at the end of the day and not getting sick at all in the winter of 2018. The experience was bringing me to a fullness of health that involves the whole me: spirit, soul, mind, and body. Family and friends began to notice an abundance of joy in me, even in the midst of a crazy workload when I remained balanced. About 2 months after starting this journey, I had lost 18 pounds and was back in regular-waist slacks which was a huge victory!
It is unlikely that my work schedule and traveling will slow down any time soon, but thanks to Jackie I have the strategies to make it through those unbalanced moments. I never thought I would be taking digestive enzyme supplements and drinking collagen in my coffee, but these small tips have brought me to a more complete health. The experience with Jackie has brought a renewal and revival in my faith journey as well. I have incorporated the rhythm and discipline to coexist in my prayer and spiritual walk.
The two disciplines of Faith and Health are so closely related especially as we look at the scriptural references – Discipline (1 Timothy 4:8 - for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come) Strength ( Isaiah 40:29) - He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak) Perseverance (Philippians 3:14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Our Spiritual journey and our physical journey are not without challenges, but we know that anything worthwhile in attaining always comes with a bit of struggle and discomfort. If I may take a quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “The world offers us comfort, but we were not made for comfort. We were made for greatness!” My work with Jackie allowed me to stay strong, persevere, and trust the process. Remember when you keep the faith and know the long-term payoff outweighs the immediate gratification, with God’s help you can accomplish what you set your mind and heart to.
- Fr. Joe Fitzgerald
Long Island, New York