How we answered Christ’s knock in 2016

“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person” at Christmas, Pope St. John Paul II said. Jesus is the Father’s merciful response to humanity, and he continues to knock on every human heart. As we celebrate Christmas and the beginning of 2017, it is the perfect time to lift our hearts in gratitude to the Father for his help in responding to that knock in 2016 and ponder in our hearts how we will do so next year.

As I look back at 2016, I am deeply grateful for the many, many people who have generously responded to Jesus’ call for them. The people of the archdiocese are a real gift to me, and so I would like to give praise to God by recalling some of this past year’s major works of mercy that occurred in the Year of Mercy.

The unborn are close to my heart, so the first area I would like to highlight involves the efforts to protect and support those whose lives are in danger. The Church faithfully stood up in defense of life at its most vulnerable stages by gathering for the March for Life at the Capitol last January. In March, we built on that momentum by gathering close to 2,000 people to process with the Blessed Sacrament around Planned Parenthood in Stapleton. This public witness and our prayers for the unborn are a crucial component of the effort to build a culture of life and reject the throwaway culture in which we live.

Another important aspect of mercy which creates a culture that embraces life is providing material support for mothers in crisis pregnancies. Through Catholic Charities and its launch of the Marisol Health clinics in Lafayette and Denver, we are now able to provide full OB/GYN care for expectant mothers, family care after birth, and in the near future, a place to stay for homeless mothers and their newborns.

Even though the coalition against Proposition 106 was not ultimately successful in convincing our fellow citizens to vote against the measure that legalized doctor-assisted suicide, the Church was faithful in standing up against the culture of death. We can all benefit from seeing this with the outlook of St. Mother Teresa, who said, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” It was truly edifying to see all the yard signs, hear from pastors about their efforts to educate the faithful and the number of people who were positively impacted by the campaign. Going forward, the archdiocese will work to continue to educate people on end-of-life decisions and the care that is available in those trying circumstances.

Pope Francis, through his declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, focused the entire Church on becoming more aware of our need to receive and give mercy. He did this by emphasizing the importance of encountering Jesus, urging priests to make Christ’s mercy through Confession more available, granting indulgences, and encouraging everyone to carry out works of mercy. Many of the priests shared with me that people were returning to Confession after years away from the sacrament. There is truth in the teaching of Jesus, that there is more joy over one repentant sinner than the ninety-nine righteous (Lk. 15:7). As archbishop I tasted that joy, as did the priests hearing confessions.

I was also encouraged to see how people throughout the archdiocese gladly embraced the Jubilee Year, with thousands of people passing through the five holy doors, hundreds going on pilgrimage and countless works of mercy being performed.

In a particular way, our archdiocese focused on the Servant of God Julia Greeley as our model for imitating the mercy of Christ. On December 18, I had the blessing of officially opened Julia’s cause for beatification and canonization. This was a historic event, since it is the first time the archdiocese has begun the process of investigating a person who lived in our midst. Julia’s witness of mercy and selfless charity were evident in her committed service to the poor, bringing them food, clothes, medicine and her loving presence, despite being mistreated and poor herself.

Julia’s life and her dedication to the Sacred Heart, her love for the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin, remind me of another knock on the door that the archdiocese experienced in 2016. This past August, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jorge Rodriguez to serve as an auxiliary bishop for our archdiocese. The events surrounding the bishop’s ordination in November made apparent the generosity of the people of northern Colorado. So many of you expressed your love for Bishop Rodriguez and gratitude for the Holy Father’s appointment.

For his episcopal motto, Bishop Rodriguez chose, “His mercy is from generation to generation.” His motto is a reminder to each of us that it is God’s mercy that sustains us and gives us the strength to respond when he calls us to follow him. In the coming year, I ask each of you to pray and reflect on how you will respond to God when he knocks on the door of your heart. Continue my dearest brothers and sisters to grow in the merciful love of the Father! Like the Virgin Mary, may you allow him to enter and give you the grace to follow his call for you.

May God bless you in this Christmas season and fill you with his joy!

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.