What CrossFit taught me about praying for the dead

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All Saints and All Souls are upon us — aka the end of spooky season — and that means praying for the Dead throughout the month of November. 

I have been aware of the spiritual practice of offering up our suffering and uniting it with Christ since I started at the University of Dallas 11 years ago. I feared complaining out loud about anything in case a pious fellow student was lurking around the corner with a trite “offer it up!” encouragement. 

When there was no more pizza in the Caf or if you were having a bad day, someone was always there to remind you to offer it up for the souls in purgatory. I eventually stopped complaining, not because I was holy or offering it up, but because I was too proud to risk being corrected. 

I heard stories of students at other Catholic universities who would walk around with hot sauce packets and take them as shots for the souls in purgatory — with whoever was zealous enough. It all seemed a little silly to me that these trivial things would have anything to do with redemption until recently, at my CrossFit gym, I participated in a 9/11 memorial workout called a “Hero WOD.” 

The workout was 60 kettlebell swings, 100 weighted step ups, 100 pull ups, 100 overhead squats and 43 burpees in honor of the 60 police officers and 343 firefighters who ran into the crumbling, burning buildings that day. They sacrificed their own lives the way Christ calls us to in John 15:13. 

I’m not so fit and had to completely scale the workout and wasn’t even able to complete it, so this sounds super lame, but intentionally thinking about each one of their souls every time I did another painful rep or gasped for air, reminded me of this very Catholic principle of redemptive suffering. That Christ allows us to participate in our redemption through unity with him in his suffering on the cross is such a Catholic idea, something so ordinary to me now that I’ve been doing the following Christ thing for a while. 

Yet there I was in that box gym feeling really special thinking about real souls and praying for them intentionally by offering up my present suffering. Actually wanting to think of some other poor soul instead of myself, actively offering something up, and not just being told to stop complaining, felt really different. 

Hopefully the next time you encounter real suffering, you can feel validated and seen and heard in that. But even in those private times of suffering in the quiet, hopefully you can have a gentle, genuine reminder to think of a specific soul in purgatory this month and be consoled in knowing that if you give it up to Christ he can do so much more with it than you or any of us ever could.

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