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Exercise your way to stronger faith

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 21, 2020 3:00 pm

‘If we want to get physically fit and in shape, we need to eat healthily and do some exercise. Same goes for our faith. We need to perform daily exercises to make us spiritually stronger,’ says Fr. James McTavish. 

This book offers 30 spiritual exercises, one exercise a day. These are exercises to strengthen the interior life and make us spiritually stronger

This man of faith has a gift for explaining in simple and relatable language the deepest of spiritual insights.

While I have known him for years as a very profound and inspiring speaker, I was happily surprised that in his new book, A Life Of Prayer: 30 Days With The Word of God, he made a parallel between developing your prayer life and physical exercise.

A Life Of Prayer: 30 Days With The Word of God
A Life Of Prayer: 30 Days With The Word of God offers 30 spiritual exercises, one exercise a day.

Originally from Scotland, Fr. James McTavish, the author, is a Verbum Dei Missionary priest and a medical doctor. He earned his degree from Cambridge University. He specialized in pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery. That line of work brought him to Sydney, Australia, in 1998 where he discovered Verbum Dei.

“I had the chance to have some time out — I was far away from my family, I was far away from my friends. And in that moment, I did something which I haven’t done in a few years — I went back to church,” Fr. James recalled how his life changed in Sydney. 

He was soon invited to a prayer meeting by some sisters of the Fraternidad Misionera Verbum Dei, a religious order under the Roman Catholic Church. He became a part of the order one year later, spending his formative years in Cebu and Mindanao before finishing his studies in Rome.

“The sisters taught me how to pray with the Word of God. And that when we pray, we speak to God. But when we read the Word of God, God is speaking to us,” he said.

Juana Crespi of Verbum Dei Missionary wrote in the book, “I had the privilege to teach James how to pray with the Word of God some years ago, when he was working in Sydney as a surgeon. I recall how he would come to our chapel early in the morning before going to the hospital. James not only embodied the first steps of prayer that I taught him but also allowed the Word of God to transform his life, until later he became a Verbum Dei Missionary priest.”

I have heard him relate spiritual insights to medical and surgical practices, but as I said, I was surprised he related developing your prayer life to starting and maintaining an exercise regimen. The Verbal Dei priests take care of their physical well-being by exercising regularly so I was happy with how Fr. James connected it.

Most people find it better to pray in the morning before the busyness of the day sets in. Time spent with the Lord usually helps the day ahead to run more smoothly.

His new book, published only May of this year, gives a series of daily exercises over 30 days. “After a month, through perseverance, we will be equipped with tools and skills, which help deepen our prayer life,” he promised.

“If we want to get fit and get in shape, we need to eat healthily and do some exercise. It might mean giving up some junk food. When we start any new set of exercises, they are not so easy at first because those muscles are not used to them.

“Practice makes perfect and with time, we will improve. Before we know it, we are able to endure longer and even lift much heavier weights. In that same line, this book offers 30 spiritual exercises, one exercise a day. These are exercises to strengthen the interior life and make us spiritually stronger,” Fr. James writes.

“It is also helpful to consider that when we go to the gym, it is usually recommended to vary the exercises to train various muscle groups. Doing only one exercise can strain us or the same exercise over and over again can get a bit boring. It is the same with prayer,” he added.

“Another tip is to set a fixed time for prayer. When medical experts recommend going to the gym, the session is not 24 hours long. Rather, it is better to have a fixed time to do our exercise. The same goes for the exercise of prayer.

“It is very helpful to set a dedicated time. Most people find it better to pray in the morning before the busyness of the day sets in. Time spent with the Lord usually helps the day ahead to run more smoothly too,” he suggested.

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For book inquiries, call Verbum Dei Missionaries at 772-99240 or Shayne at 0922-8986749.

Banner Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels