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Betsy Kneepkens: Like a Fitbit, the church is a tool we can grow with

Jul 20, 2015

This year’s Christmas gift from my husband was a Fitbit, a device that helps people keep track of the steps they take and other health information.

My husband knows I enjoy walking, so this new technology, which is at a level I can understand, was a much-appreciated gift. I put this wristband on then and pretty much haven’t taken it off.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I am not alone. This gadget is extremely popular with women and men, old and young alike. While walking one day, I pondered the popularity of these fitness calculators and what sort of need they fulfill in people.

Those who wear these bands are seeking a higher level of fitness, but I believe there is more to this fad. Successful products are usually based on an understanding of the human condition and are designed to satisfy an internal want.

In our overly secularized country, Mass-attending Catholics are often questioned about why they practice their faith. While thinking about my Fitbit, I found that people use these health gadgets for reasons similar to the reasons those who practice their Catholic faith continue to do so.

I have always enjoyed walking, even as a child. The Fitbit pushes me beyond my ordinary step count.

To increase my steps, I now make choices which increase my activity, like walking to places such as work, the grocery store and church instead of driving. Rather than asking the kids to go to the basement to get the vacuum, I bring the item upstairs myself. When driving a long distance, I ask to be let out blocks before the destination so those additional steps add up.

Church a motivator

Seeing my step count go up motivates me to make extraordinary choices. I see that the church does the same for those who are practicing Catholics.

Most people are good people, but attending Mass, receiving the sacraments like reconciliation and the Eucharist, praying the rosary and wearing medals and scapulars stretches people beyond their usual goodness. These behaviors and reminders move a person toward extraordinary sacredness, a condition designed to satisfy an appropriate urge within. The church, in its divine nature, is a perfect motivator to obey our inner need for holiness.

The Fitbit allows you to be in community with others who are seeking the same fitness you are. Fitbit users can sign up friends and track each other’s progress. You can cheer them on when they need encouragement and celebrate successes. When you fall down on your expectations, you are not alone; there are others there to support you. Working with others on your fitness is not only fun, it helps move you toward your goal.

The Catholic faith community serves the faithful in the same way. Mass is designed to create a community of believers who are essentially a faith family charged with each other’s holiness. The reading of scripture gives encouragement to live a healthy faith life. The homily encourages and corrects us where needed. Parish events outside of Mass are there to bring each other together in good times and bad times.

God made us to be in communion with others. The Fitbit does this on health level, and practicing our Catholic faith does that on a spiritual level.

Authority with a purpose

As a culture we tend to shy away from authority, even though good authority seeks the good of those it serves. The Fitbit, in a certain sense, is an authority. The information it supplies aims to make you a more physically healthy person.

I always thought I walked plenty until I started wearing this Fitbit. The truth is that I was sadly behind what should be my daily goal of 10,000 steps, and only when I accepted the authority of the readings of my Fitbit did I realize I need to live differently.

The Fitbit is serving me well, because the Fitbit does not lie. It tells me the truth even if I don’t want to know the truth. I know this health device exists to make me a healthier person, and I accept that authority in an effort to make myself more active.

Some fallen-away Catholics don’t agree with or respect the authority of the Catholic magisterium. The assumption is that authority is always about power over someone and never about the power to serve the best interests of people.

The church is there to establish the standard of living a holy life as prescribed by Christ. When they understand that the authority of the church is there to serve the faithful, to help to make life more fulfilling and to bring us to an eternal union with our heavenly Father, Catholics willingly accept the divine workings of the magisterium.

Just like the Fitbit, sometimes in my weakness I want to deny the truth that is being shown to me, but that will simple lead me away from what my heart wants to accomplish.

When a fitness buddy takes off their Fitbit, they are recorded as unranked. As a member of a fitness group, you have a commitment to wear your band so that your steps can be recorded. You have obliged yourself to help the other members of the group improve.

Sometimes people lose interest because they simply don’t care anymore, other times they chose to be inactive because inactivity is less work, and sometimes their Fitbit is broken, and because of the brokenness they separate themselves from the group by not repairing the devise. Some want to simply deny that these gadgets help improve their fitness, so they simply give up.

Aren’t indifference, laziness, brokenness and denial some of the reasons our loved ones leave the church? The desire for holiness, to live a fulfilling life and to accept a standard for living still exist in each of us. The church provides a means to accomplish all of these if given an honest effort to accept the magisterium and her workings.

I believe that God the Father sent his Son and instituted the church because he created us and placed in our hearts godly urges. He created the human condition, our freewill, which allows us to choose away from a condition that would provide lasting fulfillment. In his divine wisdom, he gave the world the gift of the institution of the church because he realized the power of the choices he gave us. God knows us and knows what would work for us.

In very simplistic terms, the Fitbit is a tool to make becoming more fit easier, if we are willing. Similarly and more perfectly, if we are willing, the Catholic Church is God’s tool to make easier a path to remain close to him as well.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth.