Discerning the right Christmas Offering

The secular spectacle of the holiday season is often a distraction for Catholics who want to focus on the real reason for the season — our Lord’s birth.

This year has provided even more distractions with worries about the pandemic, the election, the economy, and social unrest. The events of 2020 put us back on our heels — and often on our knees in prayer.

Our faith has taught us to trust our Lord as God’s promise remains unchanged since the days of Abraham.

“Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel” (Is 7:14).

As you reflect on this year, you may be inspired to celebrate Christ’s birth with a gift to His Church. There are many ways you can share the prosperity the Lord has bestowed upon you with the ministries and charities around the Archdiocese of Denver.  

The Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal supports over 40 ministries that work each day to extend God’s promise to his believers. We also have our seminaries, the Prophet Elijah House priest’s retirement home, Annunciation Heights summer camp, Seeds of Hope scholarship fund and Centro San Juan Diego for Hispanic outreach.

Here are some questions I often receive from people contemplating a donation to the archdiocese.

Q. How do I decide where to give?

A. Ask God to guide you in your giving and seek his assistance in setting your priorities. Visit websites to see which charitable causes touch your heart.  You can read about the Archdiocese of Denver’s 40 ministries in the Denver Catholic and on the webpage: impact.archden.org/stories. If you want more children to receive a Catholic Education – support Seeds of Hope. If you are concerned about the formation of our priests – support the Seminaries Appeal. What other Archdiocese of Denver ministries inspire you?

Q. How do I determine how much to give?

A. Think about sacrificial giving and have a budget. Your Christmas giving plan can be similar to your budget for your Christmas shopping for family and friends. Make a list. Reflect on a favorite Bible passage or on what matters most to your family as you reflect on your list. 

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least of brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

Q. The more I give, the more I get to deduct on my taxes, right?

A. Yes! This year, the CARES Act added more benefits for your tax deductions when you make a charitable donation. There are also special deductions like the Child Care Tax Credit available for gifts to Annunciation Heights that afford additional tax advantages. You can also give directly from your 401(k) and if you are over 70 and a half years of age, you can make a qualified tax-free distribution from your IRA up to $100,000.  Check with your financial advisor about end-of-year donations and the financial benefits of philanthropy, but God reminds us our ultimate reward is not of this world. 

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father” (Mt 6:1). 

Q. Does the Archdiocese offer information to help me plan a donation?

A. If you’d like to discuss a transformational gift to any archdiocese ministry please call me at 720-476-7525. To make a Christmas gift to the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, visit archden.org/givenow.  You can also discuss the tax benefits of a donor-advised fund or to establish a planned gift by contacting Deacon Steve Stemper at The Catholic Foundation at 303-468-9885 or visit thecatholicfoundation.com.

Q. How do I get others to give too?

A. A charitable spirit doesn’t always mean just a gift of money. Share your joy of Christ’s birth in your messages to your neighbors and friends. Be a bright light in your family and those you love will be reminded of Jesus Christ’s light in their lives. God guided you to give for the right reasons and that will inspire others to do the same. 

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.