Conference tells faithful how to pick the right weapon for battle

While the United States faces serious attacks on religious freedom Catholics must develop a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ and fight the cultural war with truth, love and prayer, said renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft.

“Since you are fighting Christ’s war use Christ’s weapons,” Kreeft told about 250 participants at the Gospels of Life Conference Oct. 25 at Risen Christ Parish in southeast Denver. “What are the weapons? Not power, not pragmatism, not political pandering. Christ could have used all of those weapons and won the world. He would have marched on Rome and become the new Cesar. Instead, he let himself be crucified by Caesar. It sounds crazy but he won something better than the world, he won heaven and he asks us to join his kingdom not Caesar’s.”

“Mission Possible: Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis” was the theme of the day-long conference hosted by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, in conjunction with the Catholic Medical Association.

The day began with a White Mass celebrated by Bishop Paul Etienne of the Cheyenne Diocese to honor doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals.

Kreeft, a Catholic convert and professor of philosophy at Boston College since 1965, has published more than 75 books. He said Catholics will face “spiritual suicide” if they worship politics and ignore their own relationship with Christ.

“Jesus Christ is not running for president,” he said. “Don’t politicize the faith … political involvement is a good thing, social activism, social justice and social peace are all very good things, but they are not God; only God is God.”

Earlier in the day, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers outlined major threats to religious freedom in the U.S., including the Affordable Health Care Act requiring birth control and abortion coverage, Christian-owned marriage venues being required to marry same-sex couples, and the city of Houston issuing subpoenas for local pastors’ sermons because they oppose a new anti-discrimination law.

“There is a significant percentage of our population, including our young people, who do not value religious freedom to the point that they have absolutely no problem telling the Catholic Church of course you have to marry same-sex couples,” Suthers said. “And they don’t even think about what the ramifications are for a free exercise of religion because, frankly, religion is not a part of their lives. So, it is a very frightening atmosphere.”

Kreeft agreed Catholics should not be silent on abortion, divorce and same-sex marriages without speaking up.

“We are at war. Stop the happy talk and fight,” he said. “Fight with words, too of course, but fight with joy and gladness because this war against the principalities of the power of wickedness in high places is the one absolutely just war in the universe. Hold your head high, it is a glorious war.”

Mary Sullivan, a longtime Denver Catholic, attended the conference to learn more about the issues, which she said can be overcome with the power of prayer and love.

“Given all the challenges of our culture I saw this as an opportunity to be uplifted by people who can give us hope and love in the midst of these challenges,” she 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.