“Running for a Higher Purpose: 8 Steps to Spiritual and Physical Fitness.” By Bishop Thomas John Paprocki.  Indiana:  Ave Maria Press, 2021.  148 pages.  Paperback: $15.64; Kindle: $11.99; Nook: $11.99.

“I have competed well; I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” is what St. Paul wrote near the end of his life to his disciple, Timothy (2 Tim 4: 7).   It was, for him, a summary of all that he had tried to do throughout his ministry for Jesus Christ.

And in a way, this Pauline quote also captures the theme of Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s new book, “Running for a Higher Purpose: 8 Steps to Spiritual and Physical Fitness.”  An avid runner for most of his life, Bishop Paprocki connects those things necessary for success in a marathon to the things necessary for success in the spiritual life.  It boils down to eight essential steps: review, reform, resolve, repeat, renew, relax, reward and rejoice.

Before you begin anything new, Bishop Paprocki says, you must first review precisely where you are now.  “We start,” he says, “by making an honest assessment of our situation and our need to improve.”  He then discusses what this means both physically and spiritually, quoting the Roman poet Juvenal who famously said “a sound mind in a sound body,” or, as Bishop Paprocki notes, “a healthy soul in a healthy body.”

Just as we might step on a scale or complete a fitness test to determine what we need to do for our health, we must also make an honest inventory of our spiritual selves.  For this he suggests an examination of conscience, much like what one might do before the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In the second step, he says, “Once we have assessed where we need to improve, we must identify how to do so.”  Now, on the physical side, for those of us who are not runners, that does not necessarily mean that we need to take up that sport.  (For those who are, Bishop Paprocki offers a great deal of good advice on how to do so safely and successfully.)  Any sort of regular physical activity will serve to improve our health, and the path to spiritual health is much the same; regular prayer as well as participating in Mass and the sacraments.  We can also look to heroes and role models for inspiration on what to do and how to keep going, whether those are people who have excelled physically, like athletes, or those who have “kept the faith,” like saints.

Once we have a plan, we need to act on it.  “Knowing what to do,” Bishop Paprocki says, “will not bring about any change unless we resolve to put those steps into effect.”  This, of course, is what makes the difference between success and failure.

The fourth step in Bishop Paprocki’s plan is a continuation of the third; starting is hard, but continuing is all important also.  “Continued effort is needed lest we quite before seeing any real improvement,” he says.  It was in this chapter that Bishop Paprocki went into great detail about how he prays while running, particularly the rosary.  The rhythm inherent in prayer, he notes, especially memorized formal prayer, can be very helpful in encouraging a commitment to physical fitness.

In the fifth chapter, Renew, he continues to discuss the importance of prayer and its purpose in improving our spiritual well-being.  This expands prayer to other parts of our lives in addition to the time we spend improving our physical health.

The concluding chapters, entitled Relax, Reward and Rejoice, lead us to the whole point of this process: “The integration of a sound mind in a sound body,” Bishop Paprocki concludes, “leads to the ultimate goal of eternal happiness.”

As Bishop Paprocki points out, it is the development of both of these aspects of ourselves that will result in health both here and hereafter.  “If our bodies are ill, our souls will be dispirited,” he concludes.  “Being at peace with our souls will contribute to our physical well-being.”

Author bio:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki is the bishop of Springfield, Illinois. A Chicago native, he was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1978 and served as auxiliary bishop of Chicago from 2003 to 2010.

The connection between sports and faith is a focus of Bishop Paprocki’s ministry. He is an avid hockey player and runner, having run 24 marathons throughout the world and raised about $500,000 for charity. This is his second book.