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Catholic gym trains members to become ‘warriors against the evil one’

Coach Joe Enabnit (far left) with members from the St. Michael Barbell Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. / Credit: Joe Enabnit

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic and a storm wreaked damage on his town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Joe Enabnit opened St. Michael Barbell Club in what he calls “a leap of faith.”

The gym’s mission is “to make strength training accessible and compatible with Catholic life, to spread the practice of strength training as a means of spiritual growth,” all while integrating fitness and prayer life and offering the work done in the gym up to God.

The St. Michael Barbell Club located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Credit: Joe Enabnit
The St. Michael Barbell Club located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Credit: Joe Enabnit

Enabnit, an experienced fitness coach, spoke with CNA about how the gym runs, how faith is incorporated into its mission, and what he hopes his members are taking away from being a part of this community.

Enabnit explained that in 2020 he was working at a gym that closed due to the pandemic. Since he had a gym in his basement, he decided to start training people himself. Since all gyms were closed in the area, word quickly spread about what he was doing and his home gym soon became overcrowded.

Then, on Aug. 10, 2020, a “derecho” hit Cedar Rapids, causing catastrophic damage. A derecho is characterized by a widespread, long-lived wind storm, and for the city of Cedar Rapids, it brought 140 mph winds that lasted for more than 45 minutes.

Once the storm passed and people came outside, trees were uprooted, cars and fences were destroyed, every single traffic signal in the city was damaged, power was out for more than a week, and three people had lost their lives.

That was when Enabnit realized that being physically fit was not only beneficial for one’s own health, it could also be used to serve the community.

“Being physically fit meant that all day long, we could help people,” he said. “And that was what we did for three weeks after that, day in and day out, six, eight hours, cleaning up people’s yards, helping people get their stuff together, taking food and ice to people because there was no electricity for several weeks.”

Enabnit continued: “It clicked for me and a lot of guys that there was more to this working out gym thing than just … a hobby. It wasn’t just about looking good, feeling good. It was an opportunity to participate in the ministry of being a member of a community where people can help each other.”

On Sept. 29, the feast of the archangels, St. Michael Barbell Club officially opened in a new, rented space. It’s an open gym where members pay a monthly membership fee and can work out whenever they like. Enabnit explained that members receive a key so they can let themselves in to work out whenever is best for them. They also use an app to help track their progress and view their workout program. For those in need of a more hands-on approach or support, Enabnit offers personal training as needed. 

Members also have their spiritual needs met by praying the rosary and the Angelus together, plus there are several priests who are members of the gym who hear confessions at the gym and give blessings.

“It’s not a marketing gimmick. We’re all serious about this Catholic stuff,” Enabnit said.

The St. Michael Barbell Club located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Credit: Joe Enabnit
The St. Michael Barbell Club located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Credit: Joe Enabnit

The longtime trainer shared how he views the relationship between the spiritual life and the fitness life.

“For some people, maybe they’ve been addicted to food or they’ve been addicted to drugs or alcohol and they need to find some sort of outlet for their addictive personality that allows them to respect their body rather than destroy it.”

“Or it’s something where even though they absolutely hate exercising, they know that it’s going to make them a better husband and father, or mom and wife, and it gives them a chance to sort of deny their desire to be lazy and redirect it into something that is bigger than themselves, whether it’s just between them and God or between them and their family,” he said. 

Specifically for the men of the gym, Enabnit emphasizes the idea that it is their “moral obligation” to take care of their bodies and remain physically fit if they are otherwise healthy.

“If you’re otherwise a healthy guy, it is a moral obligation because it allows you to do so much more for your family, for your friends, for your community,” he said. “And if you allow your body to waste away unnecessarily, you’re making it so that you’re not capable and you’re not ready when your family needs you, such as when we have a giant storm that destroys the town.”

Enabnit added: “You don't have to be a gym addict to maintain a high level of physical readiness. All it takes is a few hours a week of taking care of your body. And if you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your kids, do it for your wife, do it for your community.”

However, he pointed out that people can use strength training in immoral ways and there can be many temptations.

“There are many temptations with strength training, whether it’s focusing too much on yourself, too much on your body, whether it’s taking drugs to get stronger,” he shared. “Or it can be directed toward positive ends, whether it’s being useful to your family and your community, or personal growth.”

“The spiritual life and the fitness life are very similar to each other. There are many areas of overlap. Just like a prayer life, if you want to be successful with fitness, you have to be consistent.”

“You have to sometimes do things you don’t want to do, whether it’s sticking to a diet or doing a workout when you don’t feel like it,” Enabnit said. “Or in your prayer life, maybe it’s praying a rosary when you’re distracted or when you don’t feel like it … And all of these things that we do with the gym, it’s like training for the spiritual life.”

Enabnit said he believes that “a properly ordered fitness lifestyle is not just compatible with the Catholic faith but can actually help you to grow in your Catholic faith if you direct it toward the proper purposes.”

And why is the gym named after St. Michael the Archangel?

In addition to the gym opening on the feast of the archangels, Enabnit believes every Catholic man and woman is called to be “a warrior against the temptations of the evil one.”

“I want to emphasize the idea that the spiritual life is an ongoing battle, and it’s a battle that we sometimes appear to lose, but that we have to trust that if we keep fighting, we ultimately win,” he explained. “And that’s kind of the spirit of St. Michael because at the end he casts Satan into hell.”

Enabnit hopes that his gym members are “learning useful skills — both for taking care of their bodies as well as the skills that transfer into other areas of life” — and that he can inspire them to step away from the TV screens and constant scrolling on their phones to instead interact with those around them.

“What greater calling is there for a Christian than to see Christ in the person standing right in front of you?” he asked.

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The three great archangels of the Bible: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

Credit: Pexels

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Many Catholics can, at the drop of a hat, recite the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel — the famous petition to that venerable saint to “defend us in battle” and “cast into hell Satan.” 

In the culture of the Church, Michael is often accompanied by his two fellow archangels — Sts. Gabriel and Raphael — with the three forming a phalanx of protection, healing, and petition for those who ask for their intercession. The Church celebrates the three archangels with a joint feast day on Sept. 29. 

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel is hailed in the Book of Daniel as “the great prince who has charge of [God’s] people.” 

Michael Aquilina, the executive vice president and trustee of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio, describes Michael among angels as “the one most often named — and most often invoked — and most often seen in history-changing apparitions.”

Devotion to Michael, Aquilina told CNA, “has been with the Church from the beginning. And Michael has been with God’s people since before the beginning of the Church.”

Michael’s history in the Bible is depicted through Daniel, in Jude (in which he battles Satan for possession of Moses’ body), and in Revelation as he “wag[es] war with the dragon” alongside his fellow angels. 

Michael, Aquilina said, was “a supremely important character who was there from the beginning of the story.” Rabbinic tradition holds that Michael was at the center of many of the great biblical dramas even if not explicitly mentioned. 

He was an early subject of veneration in the Church, though Aquilina notes that the Reformation led to a steep decline in devotion to the angels — until the end of the 19th century, when Michael began an “amazing comeback journey” in the life of the Church. 

Following a vision of Satan “running riot” on the planet, “Pope Leo composed three prayers to St. Michael, ranging from short to long,” Aquilina said. “The brief one, he commanded, should be prayed at the end of every Mass.” 

This was a regular feature of the Mass until the Vatican II era, after which it came to an end — though Pope John Paul II in 1994 urged Catholics to make the prayer a regular part of their lives.

“St. Michael is there for us in the day of battle, which is every day,” Aquilina said.

The St. Michael Prayer: St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the divine power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

St. Gabriel the Archangel

Gabriel appears regularly in Scripture as a messenger of God’s word, both in the Old and New Testaments. Daniel identifies Gabriel as a “man” who came “to give [him] insight and understanding,” relaying prophetic answers to Daniel’s entreaties to God. 

In the New Testament, Luke relays Gabriel’s appearances to both Zechariah and the Virgin Mary. At the former, he informs the priest that his wife, Elizabeth, will soon conceive a child; at the latter he informs Mary herself that she will do the same. The two children in question, of course, were respectively John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. 

Christian tradition further associates Gabriel with the apostle Paul’s reference in his First Letter to the Thessalonians to the “archangel’s call” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.”

“Judgment will begin with the archangel’s call and the sound of the horn,” Aquilina told CNA. “Thus we hear often of Gabriel’s trumpet.”

Media workers in particular have “good professional reasons to go to Gabriel,” Aquilina said.

“Since he is the Bible’s Great Communicator — the great teller of Good News — he is the natural patron of broadcasters and all those who work in electronic media,” he said. 

“For the same reason, he’s the patron saint of preachers ... but also of postal workers, diplomats, and messengers.”

The St. Gabriel Prayer: O Blessed Archangel Gabriel, we beseech thee, do thou intercede for us at the throne of divine Mercy in our present necessities, that as thou didst announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation, so through thy prayers and patronage in heaven we may obtain the benefits of the same, and sing the praise of God forever in the land of the living. Amen.

St. Raphael the Archangel

Lesser-known among the three great archangels, Raphael’s mission from God “is not obvious to the casual reader” of the Bible, Aquilina said. Yet his story, depicted in the Book of Tobit, is “something unique in the whole Bible.” In other depictions of angels, they come to Earth only briefly, to deliver a message or to help God’s favored people in some way. 

“Raphael is different,” Aquilina said. “He stays around for the whole story, and by the end he’s become something more than an angel ... he’s become a friend.”

In Tobit, Raphael accompanies Tobias, the son of the book’s namesake, as he travels to retrieve money left by his father in another town, helping him along the way and arranging for his marriage to Sarah. 

The biblical account “has in every generation provided insight and consolation to the devout,” Aquilina said. 

Notably, Raphael deftly uses the natural world to work God’s miracles: “What we would ordinarily call catastrophes — blindness, multiple widowhood, destitution, estrangement — all these become providential channels of grace by the time the threads of the story are all wound up in the end.”

“Raphael is patron of many kinds of people,” Aquilina said. “Of course, he’s the patron of singles in search of a mate — and those in search of a friend. He is the patron of pharmacists because he provided the salve of healing. He is a patron for anyone in search of a cure.” 

He is also the patron saint of blind people, travelers, sick people, and youth. 

“Raphael’s story,” Aquilina said, “remains a model for those who would enjoy the friendship of the angels.”

Prayer to St. Raphael: St. Raphael, of the glorious seven who stand before the throne of Him who lives and reigns, Angel of health, the Lord has filled your hand with balm from heaven to soothe or cure our pains. Heal or cure the victim of disease. And guide our steps when doubtful of our ways. Amen.

The College of Cardinals 2023: Global, Diverse and Unpredictable


Alleged Rupnik victim: Many of the abused women have never received help

Father Marko Rupnik / Credit: Centroaletti, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 28, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Italian professor Fabrizia Raguso, one of the original members of the Loyola Community and an alleged victim of Father Marko Rupnik, whom she met in 1990, explained the reasons that led her and the other signatories to publish an open letter following a report by the Diocese of Rome on the Aletti Center, founded by the Slovenian priest in the Eternal City.

“I personally cannot sit still and wait for everything to be decided behind our backs, without being informed of anything and without being allowed to participate in [how things turn out for us],” Raguso said in an interview with La Nueva Brújula Cotidiana.

“Although I have already requested and received the indult [to leave] and therefore I am completely freed from the community [Loyola], I nevertheless feel a responsibility, both civil and ecclesial, so that everything that has happened in these 30 years comes to light and justice is done,” she explained.

“Many of the sisters are still in quite bad shape and have never received any help, neither material nor psychological. The others who signed with me, in some way, with certainly personal nuances, feel the same,” she said.

Rupnik, who has been in charge of Lenten meditations for the Vatican Curia, is co-founder of the Loyola Community with Ivanka Hosta in Slovenia in the 1980s and where he allegedly abused adult nuns.

After a preliminary investigation entrusted to the Society of Jesus, the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) “determined that the incidents in question should be considered beyond the statute of limitations and therefore closed the case at the beginning of October of this year 2022,” according to a statement from the Jesuits dated Dec. 2, 2022.

The open letter from Rupnik’s victims

A group of alleged victims of Rupnik, who has been expelled from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), published an open letter Sept. 19 in which they expressed their outrage and consternation following the report of the Diocese of Rome on the Aletti Center.

The letter, published in seven languages, is signed by several women who were part of the Loyola Community, such as Raguso, who is an assistant professor of psychology at the Portuguese Catholic University of Braga; Mira Stare, doctor in theology from the University of Innsbruck; Gloria Branciani, graduate in philosophy; Vida Bernard, graduate in theology; Mirjam Kovac, doctor in canon law; and Jožica Zupančič, doctor in missiology.

“The events and communications that have taken place in recent days: the private audience, later made public through images that appeared on the web, granted by the pope to Maria Campatelli, former nun of the Loyola Community and current president of the Aletti Center; and the statement made public today with the final report of the canonical visit made to the community of the Aletti Center, leave us speechless, without a voice to shout our consternation, our outrage,” says the letter, whose first addressee is the Holy Father.

The letter also charges that the report from the Diocese of Rome “ridicules the pain of the victims, as well as that of the entire Church, mortally wounded by such ostentatious arrogance.”

Rupnik and Hosta ‘are truly dangerous’

In the interview with La Nueva Brújula Cotidiana, Raguso noted that the signatories of the open letter feel “responsible for all the other people who may still be involved in Rupnik and Ivanka’s plots, especially if they are young.”

“In addition to Rupnik’s cunning ways of insinuating [himself] into civil, cultural, and ecclesial life, Ivanka has always continued to look for ‘vocations.’ She was concerned that not only was the community not growing but that many had left over time,” Raguso said.

The Italian professor warned that Rupnik and Hosta “are truly dangerous; they must be stopped definitively. Now, faced with this clumsy but also arrogant attempt to rehabilitate Rupnik and the Aletti Center, we feel that waiting for truth and justice from the ecclesial authorities was a waste of time.”

“We had to take a decisive step: Writing an open letter and putting our names and academic titles was a way to give a face and a name to the victims and counteract the preconceived idea that victims are ‘vulnerable’ because they lack awareness or are little educated,” she explained.

After emphasizing that “in the spiritual life, abuse destroys the relationship of the abused person with God,” the professor commented that after the abuse she has always seen Rupnik “as a true narcissist and with a great desire to assert himself, to gain fame and power; very angry when contradicted.”

Report of the Diocese of Rome on the Aletti Center

On Sept. 18, the Diocese of Rome released a statement about the canonical visit made to the Aletti Center, founded by Rupnik, with the aim of “investigating the dynamics of the association.”

Father Giacomo Incitti, professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome and in charge of the investigation, stated in the report that in “the Aletti Center there is a healthy community life, free of any particular critical problem.”

In addition, the visit also examined “the main accusations made against Father Rupnik, especially the one that gave rise to the request for excommunication,” the report states.

“On the basis of the abundant documentary material studied, the visitor has been able to note and, therefore, point out seriously anomalous procedures, the examination of which has generated well-founded doubts even about the request for excommunication itself,” states the report from the Diocese of Rome.

Rupnik was briefly excommunicated in 2019 for absolving in confession an accomplice of a sin against the Sixth Commandment.

“I believe that a Church so torn by these plots lacking clarity will not be able to endure much longer. It sincerely pains me that the bishops still do not understand that hiding evil destroys the Church; it doesn’t preserve it at all,” Raguso concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.