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Asking the Clergy: How are you keeping spiritually fit?

From left, the Rev. Thomas Cardone of Kellenberg

From left, the Rev. Thomas Cardone of Kellenberg Memorial High School; the Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard of Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches; Cantor Irene Failenbogen of The New Synagogue of Long Island. Credit: Ray O'Connor Studios; African Methodist Episcopal Churches; Daniel Brennan

This spring, the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions has many seeking a return to physical fitness at the indoor gym or track, but does getting back in shape spiritually also require a workout? This week’s clergy discuss how spiritual fitness can benefit from a return to in-person services, fellowship and sacred holiday traditions.

The Rev. Thomas Cardone

Chaplain, Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale

Becoming spiritually fit is very similar to getting back in shape. The first thing one needs to do is start, and starting is not easy. It takes time, energy and discipline.

To get back in shape both physically and spiritually, we need to desire a real change. No one says, "I want to be physically fit for 40 days and that’s enough." We want to be spiritually and physically fit for life.

Do you find yourself going to restaurants, sports competitions and stores? Then you are ready to return to Sunday Mass. Being nourished by the Eucharist enables us to be intimately united to Jesus. There is no substitute for the bread of life.

Get outside. Be present to God in nature; a daily walk can make a difference.

Practice works of charity. Find out what your parish outreach needs to help the poor — and do it.

Try Christian meditation. When we quietly center ourselves in Christ, we develop a strong interior life that enables us to be and do more than we would ever imagine.

Continue daily prayer. Remember, unlike the person who is physically fit, the one who is spiritually fit reaps benefits that are out of this world.

Cantor Irene Failenbogen

The New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville

Emerging from an unprecedented time of COVID-19 restrictions, we continue to look for signs of sustained healing and renewed hopes.

Throughout this pandemic, the Jewish tradition has turned to a prayer of healing known as the "Mi Sheberach." This prayer focuses on a "refuah shlema," Hebrew words that mean a complete healing of body, mind and spirit that connects with the deepest part of our soul, promoting the sense of completeness and peace.

Another way to improve spiritual fitness is to change the way we observe things that happen to us or the world around us. The pandemic forced us to move from judgment to compassion. We learned to be patient, to wait for better times, to reach out to family and friends; we trusted God. Through it all, we found creative ways for our spirit to survive.

In all traditions, breath is often associated with the spirit of the divine. Pausing and taking a deep breath can restore our spirit in the face of fears about new beginnings. Working on spiritual fitness can bring our learning to a new level, one breath at the time.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding elder (retired), Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

The Bible says, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Corinthians 4:17) The COVID-19 pandemic would fit into this verse as an affliction. In life, we come up against trials and tribulations, all bringing us to turbulence. Our suffering brings us great sorrows and causes a devastating blow to our hearts.

Faith is the secret of resilience. It helps us to survive all of our conquerors, including COVID-19. Faith connects us with God’s resources. The victory of coming out of the pandemic is going to be the faith that we’ve held onto.

It is often through our suffering that we recognize the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We understand that God always provides a way out. The way of obedience is never a dead end.

Our faith gives us the light to walk by and the promise of a perfect day. With faith in God, we will have no problem returning to church with a new sense of the value of fellowship and tradition. Our return to spiritual fitness will be victorious with an enlightened spirit of God.

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