'Wellness' promises a better way of life. Can Catholics trust it? (2023)

Forty-three years ago, Dan Rather, then the host of “60 Minutes,” interviewed Dr. John W. Travis, founder of the Wellness Resource Center, located in Marin County, California.

“Wellness, there’s a word you don’t hear every day,” Rather quipped.

His guest, whose work would go on to influence medical, academic, and corporate arenas, told Rather that even if one leaves a doctor’s office with a “clean bill of health, that doesn’t mean you’re well.”

“Wellness,” Travis said, “is recognizing that there is more to life than the absence of sickness. It’s an on-going dynamic state of growth.”

Travis and his partners looked at a person's whole lifestyle — their diet, work habits, stress, relationships, and physical activity — with the aim of getting to the root causes of their symptoms and preventing disease or injury in the future.

Dr. Halbert L. Dunn, whose 1961 book “High Level Wellness” would greatly influence Travis, described wellness as an integrated, holistic approach to “maximize one’s potential.”

Since then, it’s safe to say, what was once a fringe movement has morphed into a full-blown phenomenon, also known as “functional medicine.”

'Wellness' promises a better way of life. Can Catholics trust it? (1)

Joanne Krantz, in yellow, leads a yoga class at St. Peter the Apostle parish in Libertytown, Md. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

According to a 2021 McKinsey report, today’s wellness market is valued at $1.5 trillion and is expected to grow 5-10% every year for the foreseeable future. Consumers report wanting to improve six areas of their lives: health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep, and mindfulness, or the ability to focus on the present moment.

Corporate America has bought into the wellness craze. According to the CDC, more than half of all workplaces offer employees health and wellness programs, and the Harvard Business Review reports that highly effective programs have a direct impact on employee retention and company health care savings.

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Today’s consumers are willing to pay top dollar for everything from fitness trackers to vitamin and mineral supplements to diagnostic testing for metal and toxin exposure. Goop, the wellness enterprise launched by actress Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008, and considered by some to be the gold standard for wellness trends, advertises that it wants to be “worthy of your trust and your wallet.”

While some Goop products, such as a toxin-free sunscreen line, have made it into retail pharmacies, other products, such as the $8,099 personal infrared sauna in effect draw a line in the sand for everyday Americans.

Such a commodification of health sends the message that wellness is out of reach.

“It seems to be more important, or maybe marketed to, other socioeconomic and ethnic groups,” observed Father Michael Masteller, associate pastor of St. Helen Church in South Gate, with parishioners from largely Hispanic and lower- to middle-class backgrounds.

While Masteller sees the value in paying attention to one’s human needs, the wellness craze doesn’t seem to take into account that for many ordinary Americans, self-care is a luxury for which they lack the time, money, and space to indulge.

Indeed, the modern wellness movement, with its roots in post-industrialized 19th- and 20th-century Europe, was aimed at alleviating the effects of a more indulgent and decadent lifestyle.

Catholic wellness

A combination of the elite price point and addictive pursuits of her clients motivated wellness practitioner Jackie Mulligan to found Reform Wellness, “a functional medicine and holistic wellness practice rooted in Christ.”

Mulligan became familiar with the field after her mother was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. She studied how food and nutrition could help to heal systemic issues like autoimmune diseases and began observing the effects of the contemporary American lifestyle on people in her community. As a Spanish teacher, she says she couldn’t help but notice “how much of a role food and overall well-being played in my student’s capacity to learn, maintain information, and pay attention.”

Mulligan moved to San Diego, where she built a successful book of business with high end clients, a place where “it was easy to put wellness practices into place.” Her clients began to ask to extend their contracts with her in pursuit of higher goals and mile markers.

While that option would have been lucrative, Mulligan said it became “clear that no matter how healthy they ate, how much they lifted, or how productive at work they were, they were hungry for something else.”

'Wellness' promises a better way of life. Can Catholics trust it? (2)

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Jackie Mulligan, founder of Reform Wellness, gives one of her many teaching seminars. (Leslie Farinacci/Perennial Image)

Around that time, Mulligan was going through a personal reversion to the Catholic faith. She realized that her clients “were hungry for the Lord, the Divine Physician, who could ultimately sustain them.”

She founded Reform with the aim of giving clients a set of “simple but radical” tools that they could use for a lifetime to live more abundantly, citing John 10:10 as their foundation.

Reform’s wellness plans are aimed at counteracting the effects of the American lifestyle, which Mulligan says work against human flourishing. “Stress is one of the main root causes of disease,” she said.

Because she believes that the tools for building a healthier life should be available to everyone, her company makes a number of best practices available for free through online talks and on social media.

Victoria Battell, an educator from Albany, New York, remembers finding Reform online and being struck by their intake questions — ”Are you overextending yourself and ignoring yourself in the process? Are you filling your calendar with busy work that leaves you distracted rather than dialed in?”

After answering yes to every prompt, she signed up for two courses, which she said were life-changing and got to the roots of her physical and spiritual habits.

While she admitted that one of her initial goals was to lose weight and get fit, as she went through the program and examined her whole life, she realized the course wasn’t going to be a “six-week fix.”

“I’ve changed all of my habits, from sleep to prayer,” she said. “Reform is a way of life, and the online community is an aspect of it that I can’t do without.”

Bridget Vander Woude, a doctor of naturopathic medicine who works with Mulligan, said that while there are “plenty of things to be cautious about” when it comes to the movement, it also provides the best possible foundation for health that she’s seen.

“It’s most aligned with what I’ve learned about human nature and how God designed the human body,” said Vander Woude, who also has a background in philosophy.

The field is attracting interest from a growing number of Catholic physicians like Vander Woude, while secular institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and the Mayo Clinic begin to offer patients programs designed to holistically address their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

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According to My Catholic Doctor, an organization linking patients with doctors who practice medicine in a way that is consistent “with the highest principles of our faith,” functional medicine involves developing an “individualized, science-based care plan” to optimize a patient’s wellness.

Instead of prescribing treatment to alleviate symptoms and sending a patient home, practitioners of integrative medicine examine blood work, hormones, food sensitivity, and lifestyle factors to identify the root causes of many issues, including infertility, gut health, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Wellness and the Catholic tradition

Reform is one of a number of Catholic entities marketing a Christian version of wellness to a population interested in self-care.

Given that many secular wellness groups promote practices at odds with the practice of the Catholic faith, such as astrology, “healing crystals,” Reiki, and even violent sexual practices, these groups want to harness the instinct for “whole-living” but situate it in a sound theological context.

Many Catholic groups note that pursuit of health has longstanding roots in the Church’s tradition.

The Ember Collective, another Catholic wellness practice, offers personalized guidance on issues from thyroid and metabolic health to blood sugar regulation “with eternity in mind,” and markets that it’s “important in all seasons to nourish our bodies well, to support our vocations as well as those placed in our care.”

'Wellness' promises a better way of life. Can Catholics trust it? (3)

Promotional image for the Ember Journal. (The Ember Collective)

Their wellness curriculum is named “Viriditas,” a term coined by St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century mystic and doctor of the Church, who was interested in herbal and naturopathic medicine.

The term is roughly translated as the “divine greening or healing power” found in all created things, or the principle in created things that organizes them toward vitality and wholeness.

According to Katie Gearns, The Ember Collective’s CEO and co-founder, its mission has an ecological element, in that they “believe in a holy reverence for creation,” and want to help other “be good stewards of the land not just in our own backyards, but in the food we choose to nourish our families.”

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Sister Marica Ternes, FSE, director of faith formation at Duke University’s Catholic Center, said their campus ministry team created a “Catholic Guide to Wellness” for students, which includes recommendations for “daily deposits,” or habitual practices to improve one’s mental, spiritual, and physical health.

“We teach them “Lectio Divina” [“Divine Reading”], “Visio Divina” [“Divine Seeing”], and contemplation of Scripture, especially the Psalms,” she said. Students, she added, learn the difference between Christian contemplative prayer and secular meditation practices.

Jeffrey P. Bishop, the Tenet Endowed Chair in Bioethics and professor of philosophy, health care ethics, and theology at St. Louis University, speculated that wellness programs “seem to be thriving because they give a broader and more holistic vision in a world, especially a medical world, that is reductive and atomistic.”

Bishop, who is also an M.D., noted that when a person is ill, especially with a terminal illness, there’s an experience of alienation from the body that modern medicine is ill-equipped to address.

“Medicine no longer knows how to make sense of the meaning of your body and your life,” he said, “so it makes sense that people are looking for holism.” Given that “religion has always been pretty good about integrating the meaning of our bodies, lives, and selves, it makes sense that people are turning to religious wellness programs,” he said.

'Wellness' promises a better way of life. Can Catholics trust it? (4)

Father Michael Masteller. (Submitted photo)

Bishop points prospective clients to a figure in the tradition for guidance — St. Basil of Caesarea, an influential figure in the Council of Nicaea. In one letter, Basil instructs the reader in discernment about how and when to prioritize one’s spiritual and physical health.

“It’s important to find a spiritual director who can help you determine if you’re overemphasizing your physical health to the detriment of your spiritual health, or vice versa,” Bishop told Angelus. “It also can’t be that everyone has to take care of themselves first and be healthy before taking care of everybody else,” he said, cautioning against letting wellness turn into pop psychology.

At the same time, he noted that if a person is spiritually unwell, they can harm others spiritually. “It’s a delicate balance,” he observed.

Likewise, Masteller cautioned that happiness cannot be derived from health or wellness itself. “When self-care becomes a sort of self-salvation project, that’s a real problem,” he said.

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And, of course, in a world where the modern idea of wellness is out of reach for the sick, poor, or otherwise afflicted, Christianity invites all of us to “look to Christ on the cross who cannot defend himself, cannot feed himself, who is powerless,” the priest believes.

“There’s a temptation in the modern world to say, ‘If I just follow this technique, or read this book, or do this diet, or get this amount of sleep, then I’ll be OK,’ ” he cautioned.

“But the deeper peace, especially in our limitations and in our suffering,” he said, “always comes from Christ.”


Do Catholics believe in medical treatment? ›

Everyone has the duty to care for his or her own health or to seek such care from others. Those whose task it is to care for the sick must do so conscientiously and administer the remedies that seem necessary or useful.

How does Catholicism affect healthcare? ›

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world. It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, with 65 percent of them located in developing countries.

What is the Catholic way of life? ›

For Catholics, there are many activities that are included under the umbrella of “prayer.” Going to Mass, the Divine Office, Bible reading, reading spiritual books, going to adoration, a Rosary, singing or listening to spiritual music, fasting…even our daily work, our everyday and extraordinary joys and sufferings – ...

What makes a good Catholic? ›

Being a good Catholic depends both on having a personal relationship with God and living the faith in a vibrant way. In turn, living one's faith means following the teachings of Jesus Christ, the moral law, and the precepts of the Church He founded.

What does the Bible say about refusing medical treatment? ›

Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”—Matthew 9:12. For any one who is sick or a pregnant woman who needs medical attention but refuses a medical treatment is acting in ignorance of the Divine Providence.

What church does not allow medical treatment? ›

By far the largest denomination with objections to medical care is the Jehovah's Witnesses with millions of members. They oppose blood transfusions on the basis of verses in both the Old and New Testaments that prohibit eating blood.

What are the biggest problems the Catholic Church is facing today? ›

The widespread sexual abuse crisis, most of it involving pedophilia, has seriously undermined the church's moral authority, especially in the West (the United States and Europe). There has been an extensive cover-up of these abuses and a rather alarming number of important church leaders have been involved.

Do Catholics believe in quality of life? ›

Catholics believe God is the sole giver of life so therefore he is the only one who can take it away, therefore they do not accept that people have the right to die. They care about quality of life so encourage the use of palliative care to make life comfortable for those who are suffering.

Do Catholics believe in mental health issues? ›

Mental illness is not often addressed by the Catholic Church, but we are called by Jesus to recognize those who are suffering in our midst and to accompany them on their journey. “People can and do recover from mental illness.

What are the three 3 main Catholic beliefs? ›

the oneness of God and the Trinity. the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. the meaning of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

What are the 5 major Catholic beliefs? ›

The creed proclaims belief in the Holy Trinity; the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ; the Second Coming and Last Judgment of Christ; the remission of sins; the church; and eternal life.

What should a Catholic do everyday? ›

8 Things Catholics Should Do Every Day
  • Start the day with prayer, your Bible, and a talk with your Mother.
  • Smile. Use your manners. Be kind. Give out hugs.
  • Tell someone you love them and why.
  • Talk about God.
  • Sacrifice something.
  • Serve in some way.
  • Reflect on your day.
  • For your weekly and monthly planning:

What are 10 great reasons to be Catholic? ›

All Roads Lead to Rome: 10 Reasons to Become Catholic
  • The Faith is True. ...
  • The Faith is Beautiful. ...
  • The Faith is Good. ...
  • A Cloud of Witnesses. ...
  • The Sacraments. ...
  • It's filled with sinners… ...
  • A faith for everyone. ...
  • The Catholic Faith is a Fighting Faith.
Jun 14, 2019

What are some strict Catholic rules? ›

According to this writer the Commandments of the Church are: To hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days; to fast during Lent, on prescribed vigils, and the ember-days; to abstain from meat on Fridays and Saturdays; to go to confession once a year; to receive Holy Communion at Easter; to pay tithes; and finally not to ...

What makes a woman beautiful Catholic? ›

Woman is beautiful in her full gift of self, in Marian form, to be all for Jesus, a tender and magnificent big-hearted expression of the love of God in the world. She is bride (Ephesians 5).

Can a Catholic refuse medical treatment? ›

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has some very helpful advice: “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of 'over-zealous' treatment.

What does Jesus say about doctors and medicine? ›

He replied, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick' (Matthew 9:12). Jesus recognised that sick people need doctors. He did not condemn using doctors and 'earthly remedies'. Yes, Jesus performed many healing miracles while he was on Earth.

What did Jesus say about needing a doctor? ›

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice. ' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

What religions refuse health care? ›

Today, many religious groups routinely reject some or all mainstream health care on theological grounds, including Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Amish and Scientologists.

What religions deny medical treatment? ›

Blood Transfusions and Medical Care against Religious Beliefs
  • Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusions. ...
  • Christian Scientists also oppose transfusions. ...
  • Courts struggle to balance rights of parents and children. ...
  • Minority faiths are not required to provide medical treatment to children.

What religions refuse medications? ›

Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists are the two most common religious doctrines that may dictate treatment refusal, limitation, or preference for prayer.

Why are so many people leaving the Catholic faith? ›

When asked to explain in their own words the main reason for leaving Catholicism, upwards of four-in-ten former Catholics (48% of those who are now unaffiliated and 41% of those who are now Protestant) cite a disagreement with the Catholic Church's religious or moral beliefs.

What were 3 complaints against the Catholic Church? ›

The Catholic Church has also been criticized for its active efforts to influence political decisions and governments, such as the Church's promotion of the Crusades, opposition to contraception, secular education, and LGBT rights, and its involvement with various 20th-century far-right dictatorships.

Is the Catholic Church declining? ›

Around 360,000 Catholics left the church in 2021 alone, and about 280,000 people have left Protestant churches.

Do Catholics believe in turning off life support? ›

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, 2278. Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment.

Are Catholic people happier? ›

Happiness research

Our findings suggest that Protestants, Buddhists and Roman Catholics are happier and more satisfied with their lives, compared with other groups.

What are the most important Catholic beliefs? ›

The core beliefs of the Catholic faith are found in the Nicene Creed. Here's what it says: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.

What does the Bible say about anxiety Catholic? ›

In Philippians 4:6-7, St. Paul said, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Who is the Catholic patron saint of mental illness? ›

Saint Dymphna is well known as a patron of people living with mental illness.

Does the Bible talk about mental health? ›

We see this in God's creative acts of making humans in His image (Genesis 1:26–27), of giving them each other as companions (1:27–28), and of giving them a mandate to steward the earth (1:28–30). Regarding mental health specifically, the Bible contains no one word for mental illness.

What is the Golden Rule Catholic? ›

Let us remember the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.

What are the 2 types of Catholicism? ›

The Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches together form the "Catholic Church", or "Roman Catholic Church", the world's largest single religious body and the largest Christian denomination, as well as its largest Catholic church, comprising over half of all Christians (1.27 billion Christians of 2.1 billion) and nearly ...

What is the highest form of worship in Catholic? ›

Liturgical principles

The highest form of the divine worship of the liturgy is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in which the one sacrifice of Christ is offered to God the Father on the altar by the priest in persona Christi in an unbloody manner, under the forms of bread and wine.

Who invented Catholicism? ›

According to Catholic tradition, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. The New Testament records Jesus' activities and teaching, His appointment of the twelve Apostles, and His instructions to them to continue His work.

Why do Catholics pray to Mary? ›

Catholics do not pray to Mary as if she were God. Prayer to Mary is memory of the great mysteries of our faith (Incarnation, Redemption through Christ in the rosary), praise to God for the wonderful things he has done in and through one of his creatures (Hail Mary) and intercession (second half of the Hail Mary).

Is Catholic different from Roman Catholic? ›

A Roman Catholic is a Catholic who is a member of the Roman rite. There are many Catholics in the East who are not Roman Catholics, such as Maronite Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, and Chaldean Catholics.

Can you use condoms as a Catholic? ›

As traditional Catholics see it, using condoms is wrong, even as a prophylactic against disease, because they prevent conception. Life, from the moment of conception to death is, Catholics believe, sacred.

Do Catholics use tampons? ›

What do Catholics think about tampons? The Roman Catholic Church says it has no official position on tampons. Nonetheless, some priests have spoken out against the product, associating it with birth control and sexual activities that are forbidden by the Church.

What makes a good Catholic wife? ›

A woman who are polite, non-confrontational, gentle, kind, compassionate and empathetic is a gracious woman. She is thoughtful in considering a man's needs, and works to know him well enough to know how to handle him. These qualities melt the heart of a good man, and he responds favorably.

Why Catholic is different from others? ›

Broadly, Roman Catholicism differs from other Christian churches and denominations in its beliefs about the sacraments, the roles of the Bible and tradition, the importance of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the papacy.

What 3 things made the Catholic Church so powerful? ›

The Catholic Church became very rich and powerful during the Middle Ages. People gave the church 1/10th of their earnings in tithes. They also paid the church for various sacraments such as baptism, marriage, and communion. People also paid penances to the church.

What are the biggest sins in Catholicism? ›

Finally, the capital sins are also considered grave matter. These sins are vices and are defined as contrary to the Christian virtues of holiness. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth (acedia).

What are the 7 sins Catholic list? ›

What are the seven deadly sins? According to Roman Catholic theology, the seven deadly sins are the seven behaviours or feelings that inspire further sin. They are typically ordered as: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

What do you call a Catholic who doesn't practice? ›

A lapsed Catholic is a Catholic who is non-practicing.

What is true beauty Catholic? ›

True beauty is a sharing in the glory of God and allowing that glory to shine through your soul as light shines through a prism.

What makes you a true Catholic? ›

What makes a Christian Catholic? A Catholic is a Christian who subscribes to the teachings of the Catholic Church and regularly participates in the sacraments of the same Church. When a Christian stops doing these things, he moves away from Catholicism. Some Catholics boast of rejecting certain Church teachings.

What does the Catholic Church say about flirting? ›

What does the Catholic Church say about flirting? Answer: It's not a sin if the individuals involved are not married. It's also not a sin if it is between people who are married to each other. But it is a sin if it is between a married person and someone other than one's spouse, as in the case you mention.

What religions do not believe in medical care? ›

Today, many religious groups routinely reject some or all mainstream health care on theological grounds, including Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Amish and Scientologists.

What does God say about medical treatment? ›

He replied, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick' (Matthew 9:12). Jesus recognised that sick people need doctors. He did not condemn using doctors and 'earthly remedies'. Yes, Jesus performed many healing miracles while he was on Earth.

Is there a religion that doesn't believe in medicine? ›

Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusion. Christian Scientists refuse most medical treatment. Instead they rely on the healing prayers of Christian Scientist Practitioners. The Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Altoona, PA believes that disease is caused by the devil.

What do Catholics believe about end of life care? ›

First, the Catholic Church does not allow euthanasia for terminally ill patients. But when a patient has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, the Catholic Church believes that patients should be kept as free from pain as possible until they die a natural death with dignity in the place of their choice.

Does the Catholic Church believe in mental health? ›

Mental illness is not often addressed by the Catholic Church, but we are called by Jesus to recognize those who are suffering in our midst and to accompany them on their journey. “People can and do recover from mental illness.

Can a doctor refuse care based on religious beliefs? ›

It is not, however, ethical to refuse a patient's request for treatment simply on the basis of personal beliefs, including religion.


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