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: New president seeks to advance mission of Arrupe Jesuit HS to underserved families

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The newly-elected president of Arrupe Jesuit High School, Michael J. O’Hagan, will seek to serve students and families in the Jesuit tradition of providing a well-rounded, Catholic formation.

“My vision remains rooted in the original vision of the school, which is to serve families and students who, for many reasons beyond their own control, have been traditionally underserved,” O’Hagan said. “I want to make sure that Arrupe is always connected to its mission of serving young people and families in this Jesuit Catholic tradition.”

O’Hagan was the founding principal of Arrupe Jesuit High School when it opened in 2003 after a lay initiative to bring Catholic education back to the center city of Denver.

Bringing Catholic education back, however, meant new challenges: The area was mostly populated by low-income families who could not afford private education. Thus, the goal of making Catholic education affordable became a primary mission.

The founders took on the work-study model of Chicago’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, which allowed students to implement work into their education with a two-fold purpose: Gaining real-life formation while paying for their college prep education.

“It’s a dynamic relationship with the metro area and business community,” O’Hagan said. “Our young people have an experience of the real world that they can connect to their classroom lessons and affords them an opportunity to see a future they didn’t always know existed.”

Arrupe JHS students work 5 days a month and earn a total of around $2.5 million for the school.

My vision remains rooted in the original vision of the school, which is to serve families and students who, for many reasons beyond their own control, have been traditionally underserved.”

The new president’s role will have a greater focus on strengthening the existing relationships with entities that help the advancement of the school through this work-study program. As principal, his responsibility was more internally-focused on faculty, staff and students.

“I’m excited to be able to build partnerships within the business community and benefactors,” he said. “People are drawn to the mission of Arrupe because they’re drawn to our students. It’s the mission of Arrupe that allows us to connect with so many people.”

Over 130 organizations now contribute to the mission of the school, allowing all 420 students to share full-time, entry-level positions in a wide variety of fields including education, health and engineering.

Family-oriented

Other than making sure bills get paid, O’Hagan assured that his responsibility extends to keeping and advancing the Jesuit Catholic identity of the school. This reality calls for a clear understanding of the needs of the students and an integration of families, he said.

Ninety-three percent of students at Arrupe are Hispanic and the other seven percent include African Americans and African refugees.

Some of the challenges that students face on a personal level include being separated from loved ones due to deportation and experiencing trauma and violence due to the realities of the neighborhoods they live in. Nonetheless, O’Hagan assures that the faculty and staff go beyond these facts when defining the kids.

“We’re very aware of the challenges they face, but we’ve made an intentional decision – one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel – to define our kids by their talents and their gifts,” he said. “We often describe ourselves as a school of dreams, the dreams of our kids and the dreams of their moms and grandparents.”

Arrupe JHS takes families seriously. It knows that if the richness given to the students is not shared by the family, it has failed.

For this reason, the school provides many resources for them and also lets them know that they are welcome, highlighting the key role they play in their children’s education.

We’re very aware of the challenges they face, but we’ve made an intentional decision – one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel – to define our kids by their talents and their gifts.”

Families are considered and helped from the application process itself throughout the four years of education by way of workshops and gatherings that help them understand their children’s progress and education.

“We don’t want families to feel like their kids are having an experience of high school that is separate from their families. We want them to have a shared experience,” O’Hagan stated.

After so many years of work in the mission of making the school facilities, staff and mission reflect the dignity and potential of every student, the new president is mostly grateful for the support received.

“I am grateful for the support that Arrupe has received from the community through our first 15 years. We haven’t been successful because we’ve been isolated,” he assured. “We have been successful because of the many partnerships we have built across the city, state and country.”