In the Lenten season, the Catholic faith emphasizes the importance of self-denial, discipline and a sense of planning and preparing oneself for the future. However, Father Ryszard Biernat, who serves as secretary to Bishop Richard J. Malone, strives to live these in his life all year long through vigorous workouts, a strong will and devotion to his spiritual life that came from his desire to make sure he is healthier.
Several times each week, Father Biernat works out by lifting weights, performing group exercises in a gym, running and sprinting, and cycling. He began this workout routine in 2010, around the time he began to become interested in beekeeping as a hobby. He recalled how he initially did this to make him more physically able to perform tasks, but he also related this to the Lenten practice of developing a strong will.
"The reason I started exercising has nothing to do, actually, with the whole fasting, Lent, or giving up. It was connected with raising bees," Father Biernat remembered. "In my first season, I realized that every time I went to work with the bees, I was having back problems. I realized it was because I did not have enough strength to deal with the physical aspects of beekeeping. Rather than taking a painkiller, I decided in the winter, after the season was over, to get myself stronger. This way, I could be lifting hives and honey."
With time and mental energy, he also looks up classes at the gym to see what else he may include in his routine. "I don't have, perhaps, one thing that I need to do, but I know I need to stay active every week," he commented. "I'm mostly into lifting weights, and I do it often with my friends, so it's becoming kind of a social time. Rather than sitting and complaining about life, we can do something constructive."
While there were other health reasons that contributed to his commitment to his current exercise regime, Father Biernat felt this was the primary reason for doing this. Early in his spiritual life, Father Biernat was uncertain for years about the concept of giving things up, since this often involves sacrificing things one enjoys; instead, people should strive to do more. "Rather than giving up stuff and making yourself miserable, why don't you take stuff on? Do something good instead of becoming miserable," he suggested.
In time, Father Biernat came to understand the purpose and potential benefit of fasting, particularly after reading the book "Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results," by Stephen Guise. In the book, the author discusses the concepts of will versus motivation in people's lives. Sometimes they depend solely on motivation to get daily tasks done, but motivation comes and goes, especially when bad things happen.
"One day you feel motivated, but then you get stuck in the traffic and there goes your motivation, or you get a headache, and there goes your motivation. You have a fight with your friend, there goes your motivation. You forgot your wallet, and there goes your motivation. The author (Guise) talks about strengthening your will. I realize that fasting, itself, is about making you stronger. Nobody should fast just for the sake of fasting. There is a purpose for it, and the purpose of fasting is to strengthen your will," Father Biernat said.
By strengthening one's will, people become less dependent on having to be motivated in order to take an action that is beneficial in their lives. In relation to his beekeeping experiences and working out, he does not work out just for the sake of working out, but there is a purpose, much as people fast. When one is physically strong, one can perform more manual labor and lift heavier things. "When you have a strong will, then you can resist evil as part of Christian living, but then you can do good," added Father Biernat.
In turn, having a strong will and not having to rely on motivation makes people better workers, spouses and churchgoers, since they perform necessary actions based on free will without needing to be prodded and poked into the right direction if they do not feel like doing them. Today, Father Biernat sees fasting as an act of mental will, much as exercising works out muscles to make them physically stronger.
"I see how great is the wisdom of the Church, throughout centuries and millennia. We use fasting not to make people miserable, but to strengthen them. That is a very beneficial practice not just spiritually, but in day-to-day living, where you make decisions more responsibly," Father Biernat concluded. "With spending, you have to have a strong will to resist buying all of that stuff you 'need' to be happy, that the advertisers tell you, 'Unless you have this, you can't be happy.' It's in the interest of everybody to have a strong will."