Archbishop: Catholic schools exist to evangelize children

Archbishop Samuel Aquila celebrated Mass with the principals of the diocese’s Catholic schools on Aug. 11, the feast of St. Claire. The Mass was held at Christ the King chapel at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.In his homily, the archbishop stressed that the purpose of a Catholic school is to create well-formed Christians.

“This is why Catholic schools exist: to share Jesus Christ, so that children may have an encounter with him,” the archbishop said.

However, in order to bring Christ to children, the archbishop reminded the principals that they, too, must have a relationship with Christ. He especially recommended a devotion to the Eucharist. He asked the principals to meditate on John 6, the passage in which Jesus explains he will become the Eucharist, before the children came back to school.

“If we don’t remember the truth, we will never pass it on to our children,” the archbishop said.

He also said that the principals must be grounded in an understanding of the true Christ, found in the Eucharist, and not a god of ideological fads or convenience. He cited the many cultural wars and battles taking place throughout the world, and the children and adults being martyred in the Middle East. He reminded the principals that all Christians are called to have such faith. However, he encouraged them to look to the day’s first reading for inspiration.

“We hear of that [confidence in Jesus] in the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses is praying and giving his farewell to the people. And he reminds the people, and reminds Joshua, ‘Be brave and steadfast, have no fear or dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who marches with you. He will never fail you or forsake you.’ And my sisters and brothers, we have Jesus Christ, who is with us. And we, too, are called to proclaim that truth. We, too, are called to be those who give witness to that truth,” he said. “It is essential that we are clear in who we are calling people to.”

This Jesus is not a soft Jesus or a cheap grace, he said, but a crucified grace.

“It is a costly grace, and that costly grace is the cross. It is rooted in love, it rooted in charity, it is rooted in mercy, and it is rooted in truth. It is important for us, in the relativism that we live in today, to be those who proclaim truth and charity,” he said.

He said the best way to proclaim this truth and charity is to receive them like a child. He cited several passages in the Bible in which Jesus does not reward those who seem mature in their faith, but instead tells his followers to be humble and childlike. Christ also admonished his followers to never despise a child, because their guardian angels continually look upon the face of God.

“It is important for you as principals to communicate that love to the children who are entrusted to your care. That as you care for them, they experience the love of their heavenly father,” he said.

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

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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.