Praised be Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard of Wim Hof? Until recently, neither had I. A cousin told me all about how Hof, the so-called “Iceman”, is teaching the human race about the benefits of the cold. Given that it’s early in January, this is very good news for us! Hof was born in 1959 in the Netherlands and holds some of the most unique world records. For example, he once ran a marathon (26.2 miles) in the Namib Desert without water and also ran a marathon above the Arctic Circle dressed in nothing but shorts. Most impressive is the amount of time he can spend immersed in ice – his current record is one hour and fifty minutes. Hof attributes his amazing feats to breathing exercises that decrease the carbon dioxide in our bodies while simultaneously increasing the oxygen levels. He claims that anybody can do what he does; for full disclosure, I’ve done some of his breathing exercises and it does seem to increase core body temperature. For whatever reason, my circulation seems to be deficient insofar as my feet and hands are cold for about half of the year. If I had a nickel for every time someone noted my cold hands (“but a warm heart”), I’d be very close to retirement. At any rate, if you are intrigued by this guy, check him out on the Internet. I mention him here because most human beings dislike the cold, and as we get older we might even begin to resent it. The Christian impulse has always been to accept suffering as a way of drawing closer to Jesus and to His people. With Lent just over a month away, winter affords us a chance to examine our attitude toward suffering and ask God to give us a generous spirit. Some people for Lent, for example, take cold showers and offer the pain as an exercise in redemptive suffering. Mother Teresa (now a saint) wore a hair shirt under her religious habit as a way of suffering with the poor people to whom she ministered. There are many ways we can grow in this regard, especially at a time when so many things are extraordinarily convenient. The thrust of a guy like Hof is that he is interested in discovering the inner potential of the human body. And as Catholics who believe that Jesus took on our flesh at His Incarnation in Mary’s womb, we have a deep reverence of the body and its role in our life. As Saint John Paul II put it, the body expresses part of who we are – it’s for this reason that we take care of it and thank God for it. People who work on perfecting their bodies are worthy of our attention, as we might learn something that will allow us to worship God better, not to mention loving our neighbor with greater patience. However, Hof and his crowd generally are deficient in the area of our spiritual nature (a.k.a. our soul), and we can thank God for all that He has revealed in the Scriptures and in the lives of His saints. Christianity is Jesus’ gift to us, as it teaches us to care for our body because it is the temple of His spirit within us. So we can embrace exercise and a good diet without obsessing over such things. Taking care of our physical health has benefits in our spiritual life, and it seems plausible that the opposite is true (check out studies about the average age of death for Sisters – it seems a life of prayer is good for us on many levels). As we come to the end of the Christmas season (January 8th is the feast of Christ’s Baptism and the last day of the Christmas season) many are wanting a healthier, happier 2018. In the spirit of Christ, we leave the last word to Alexander Solzhenistyn: “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?”
May God bless you and your endeavors during the New Year of 2018!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin