Is it possible for your physical health to be what leads you to spiritual health? How can you live out your faith while also caring about the way you look? First-year seminarian Joe Knepper sat down with The Mountain Echo to help navigate that battleground.
Knepper explained, “With anything that we do in our culture, we want to be the best at it.” He went on to say that while most of our interests are good in themselves, if they are left unchecked, they can become our “gods.” He explained that with anything, there’s a temptation to fall into pride, but having a relationship with Jesus can help keep it in check.
As Catholics, says Knepper, we believe in the totality of the human person. It’s not enough to focus just on physical health, mental health, or spirituality. We need all three. While he has had to cut back on his time at the gym since coming to the seminary, his commitment remains the same. The seminary encourages physical well-being, but Knepper and his friends have taken that to a new level.
It happened to work out that just before applying to the seminary, Knepper met the only other first-year seminarian from his diocese, Brian Isenbarger, at the gym. “We were able to build a friendship in our deep relationship with Christ but also with working out,” Knepper said.
The seminary has a gym inside, but Knepper and Isenbarger choose to work out in the ARCC instead. He said that this helps keep their goals in mind—especially spreading the gospel. At the ARCC, they can make friends with other students at the Mount. Knepper explained that this is important because evangelization starts with a friendship.
“I would never go into the gym with the goal of evangelizing someone, but if I’m living my life with the sense of Christ being enough, then other people are going to recognize that and hopefully want it to,” Knepper said.
Knepper explained that with both the gym and the Church, accountability is important. Having friends that understand both aspects of his life is one of the most important aspects of Knepper’s routine. He went on, “there’s a reason Christ called a group of twelve and sent people out in pairs.”
Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Knepper studied public management at Indiana University. Before the seminary, he worked for nonprofits and lobbying firms and had a special interest in education reform. His conversion took time, starting with prayer, then adoration, and eventually RCIA. Once he developed a deep relationship with Christ, he knew that his former typical college lifestyle had to radically change.
For Knepper, his spiritual conversion and physical routine both happened around the same time. He didn’t make his first communion until he was 21 years old, a junior in college. Also in college, he started working out simply because it gave him something to do. Quickly, Knepper realized that both aspects of his life require discipline, commitment, and community.
In many ways, the gym helped Knepper become prepared for the seminary. “For things that matter, you go every day, even when you don’t feel like it,” Knepper said. “That has to be your approach with prayer. I’ve never left a holy hour or the gym and thought, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’”
Some time after Knepper began his serious commitment to the gym, he went on a mission trip to Rwanda. Knepper explained that during this trip, God affirmed for Knepper that he was doing the right thing with his physical fitness. During his free time, Knepper and some friends went exploring around the village. He has to climb around sides of mountains and overcome obstacles in his way. While exploring, he encountered children from the village.
“Once you meet people in their homes like that, you actually meet them. Through those kids who didn’t speak any English, I encountered Christ in more of a real way than many other times in my life,” Knepper said. Knepper would never have met those children had he not been able to physically endure the trail.
Every day, Knepper strives to be the best that he can be in all aspects of his life. He is careful to dedicate the time necessary to the gym, but also uses that time to further his relationships with Christ. By doing so, Knepper is proving that there are many ways to live out one’s faith, not just the traditional and expected practices.
“The world should be shocked by Christ in everything you do, not just within the 4 walls of the church,” said Knepper.