Greg Maddux, Jesus Christ and the Sword of the Spirit

Scott Elmer

In the Church’s eternal wisdom, the feasts of Easter and Pentecost fall around the start of baseball season. Some might be tempted to pass this off as “coincidence,” but I tend to favor providence in this matter. My favorite baseball memory occurred on June 10, 2005. The Cubs were playing the Red Sox and Greg Maddux took the mound against Bronson Arroyo. Now, you should understand that Greg Maddux is my favorite ball player of all time. I witnessed him dominate on the North Side in his early years, shared in the bitter-sweet glory of his championships in Atlanta and welcomed him home in a triumphant return to the Windy City.

On this day, Greg Maddux not only won (obviously), but he hit a home run, which used to be very rare for pitchers. It was the bottom of the sixth inning and I remember seeing the ball hit his bat and I immediately rose to my feet with both hands raised as the rest of Wrigley sat and chatted. No one expected it because frankly, Greg Maddux was an awful hitter; he could lay down a bunt with the best of them but anything more than a single was a once in a season type moment. Eventually, and it seemed like forever, the ball barely fell in the basket and the stadium erupted.

The reason why Greg Maddux is my favorite player has nothing to do with his bat, but his masterful pitching. You may think that meant that he threw a lot of strikeouts, but while he fanned his fair share, Greg Maddux pitched to contact. He had a mean sinker that made players want to swing only to ground out and into double plays. He wasn’t afraid of the batter swinging; in fact, he welcomed it — it was his whole dang plan.

When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus on the mound dealing just like Greg Maddux. He doesn’t avoid contact or conflict. Instead, he seeks it out. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple as a baby, the prophet Simeon proclaimed, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed” (Lk 2:34). Conflict is Jesus’ vocation. As an adult, he confirms this when he says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34). That’s the Jesus I’m throwing out there on Opening Day and you can bet the house that we’re coming home victorious.

That is truly our Jesus, our Head, our Savior and our King. Have we made him into something else — someone, perhaps, a little quieter? Gentle? Not as offensive? I know I’m guilty of doing so in the past, but whatever I made him into isn’t who he is and always will be. As we are built up by the Mass readings from Acts this Easter, and as we approach Pentecost, I’m calling on every man and woman of good will to reconsider who Jesus really is.

We are people who were born to achieve peace by way of war. If not, why did Jesus bring a sword? Was it to mount on our wall and only reference when we speak of Church history? St. Paul speaks of Christians receiving the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians. I believe that the Lord is offering us a new sword this Pentecost. But like every gift, you have the choice to receive it and use it, or not to. We need to take a good, hard look at ourselves as a Church. Scripture says that, “David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine” (1 Sam 17:48). I know there is no shortage of Philistines, but are you running toward them to conquer?

I love listening to the bridge of “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher during Easter. The lyrics, quoting St. Paul are, “Oh, Death, where is your sting? Oh, Hell, where is your victory?” I look out on the world and see the sting of death and the advancement of Hell all around me. I also see the grace of God abounding in miraculous and overwhelming ways. So, my question to us is: Church, where is your sting? Christ has proved victorious; are we willing to call down the reign of Heaven in the face of Hell? If you are, join me in this prayer:

Lord Jesus, you are my King. Give me boldness and courage to proclaim your Gospel in the public square. I give my life to you again today. Release your Spirit and your Kingdom in me Lord, that I might exist for the praise of your Glory. Amen.

COMING UP: We should have listened to Pope Paul VI

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Happy Humanae Vitae 50th Anniversary!

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s been a whirlwind.  Parties, parades, some great fireworks shows.  Oh, and did you see the Hollywood All-Star Tribute to Pope Paul VI?

OK, maybe not so much.

It’s a shame, really. If everyone had somehow, miraculously, listened to Pope Paul VI back in 1968, the world could be a very different place today.  Heck, we might not even have a need for the #MeToo movement.

Allow me to explain.

Up until the 1960’s, it was pretty universally recognized that sex between people of childbearing age came with the distinct possibility of the aforementioned childbearing.  Birth control methods up to that point were somewhat rudimentary and unreliable.  Procreation was an inherent part of sexual activity — part of its meaning.  So respecting a woman meant not putting her at risk of a pregnancy she wasn’t prepared for.  And she in turn had a clear-cut, universally recognized reason to be indignant if a man was pressuring her.

But The Pill changed all of that.  Young people (and a lot of older people, too) figured that, without that pesky fear of pregnancy, they could indulge in sexual activity whenever, and with whomever, they chose. It would be fun, they thought.  Sex feels good, they thought.  Why not have more of it, with more people, they thought.

And then Pope Paul VI said “no.”  In Humanae Vitae, he essentially said that Pill or no Pill, birth control was still not morally licit.

The young people of the Free Love Generation were not disappointed by this news — only because I would imagine they were too busy making love and not war to notice an obscure, 23-page theological document released by a celibate guy who was way older than 30.

But, had they been smart, they might have paid attention to the following passage from that obscure theological document:

It can also be feared that the man who becomes used to contraceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman, and no longer caring about her physical and psychological equilibrium, come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion. (HV 17)

Does that sound at all familiar?

The problem came because, as much as the generation of the 1960’s wanted Free Love to really be free, it isn’t.  They figured removing the risk of pregnancy would remove the “strings,” and everybody could just consensually enjoy everybody else’s body with no ramifications.

But there is a saying: “Nature bats last.”  Sexual activity was designed by God, not by us.  And he, in myriad ways, designed it to be a profoundly, deeply, inherently meaningful act that touches the very core of the human psyche and spirit.  Everything about it — physically, chemically, emotionally and spiritually — is built around the fact that it is a profound act of self-giving love that places the couple in the context of entering into and cooperating with him in his most sacred role — as Creator of the miracle that is a new human person. Sex speaks a language, and the possibility of procreation is an essential part of that language.  It says “I give myself to you, and to the new life that may come forth from my gift.”

And as hard as we might try, we can’t change that.

I think women, being the ones who conceive and bear that life, are more naturally sensitive to this meaning.  We can’t always articulate it, but it’s there. And hence, we are more reluctant to play with it carelessly.

When the sexual revolution attempted to sever sexual activity from the possibility of procreation, they were essentially attempting to render sexual activity meaningless.  They were saying “from now on, this is just something we do with our bodies.  It can mean as much or as little as you want it to mean.”

This is wrong on so many levels.  For one, it takes away women’s power.  When we recognized that sex is powerful, meaningful and life-altering, a woman had the backing of her family and her culture in saying “No, I will not place myself or my future children at that risk, and if you don’t respect that, you clearly don’t love me.”

Now, women are more or less on their own in fending off the male sex drive — which, for good or for evil, could probably be considered one of the most powerful forces in the world.  If sex is meaningless, then why in the world would she object?  He wants it, and it might be fun for her too, so why wouldn’t she be nice and acquiesce?

It takes a very strong, very well-formed and dare I say holy young woman to have the courage to say “I believe that God created sex with an inherent meaning, so my final answer is no” and watch him walk out of her life forever.  For the vast majority of young women, who can’t articulate what they inherently sense about the sacredness of their bodies, it’s a lot easier just to go along with the program and try to keep the guy.

And then it moves from acquiescing to keep the boyfriend, to acquiescing to make the powerful man happy so that I can get the job, or keep the job, or get the role in the movie, or whatever.  The world becomes one big quid pro quo arrangement whereby we are expected to trade on our bodies to get what we want or need.

And the woman becomes “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment.”

The hard lesson we should have learned from Humanae Vitae is quite simply that our bodies have meaning, that sexual expression has a meaning, and that God is God and we are not.  And that when we start tinkering around with that meaning, people get hurt.

We should have listened.