Jesus, teach us to imitate your mercy

Last week I met two amazing women dedicated to healing the broken. They were from Rachel’s Vineyard, an apostolate that holds retreats for men and women who have experienced the tragic consequences of choosing abortion.

During our meeting I heard something that surprised me. I learned that sometimes people in parishes question the need for retreats for those who have aborted their children. The fact that these retreats are being questioned is revealing.

It shows that some people have failed to grasp the power and depth of God’s mercy, which is able to wipe away every sin. Abortion is undeniably a grave sin, but it is by no means a sin beyond God’s mercy.

It also demonstrates that it is not widely known that abortion not only takes an innocent life but also inflicts deep wounds on the mother and father. Christ longs to forgive and heal those who have sinned, no matter what the sin, and he desires to do so through his Church.

Benedict XVI reflected on this truth in a 2008 address to priests on the importance of the sacrament of confession in our day. To illustrate his point, he recalled the passage from Luke’s Gospel (7:36-50) in which a well-known prostitute walks into the house of Simon the Pharisee, while he is hosting Jesus for dinner.

The sinful woman expressed her repentance by bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them with oil. In contrast, Simon presumed that he was righteous and that he had nothing serious to be forgiven for.

Then-Pope Benedict explained, the “message that shines out from this Gospel passage is eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are … blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin.”

Every one of us is a sinner, and we must pray for the ongoing conversion of our hearts, so we are convicted that, in the words of the former pontiff, “God’s mercy … is infinitely greater than any guilt of ours.” This is the message men and women receive during Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.

A woman named Amee said that before the retreat her guilt and pain were so great that she could not say the word “abortion.” But through the healing that took place on the weekend, she re-established her relationship with Jesus Christ and fell in love with the Church. Her encounter with Jesus, his mercy and compassion, brought her to repent and receive the healing mercy of Jesus. After the retreat she said, “I understand the power of God’s forgiveness and love. I have been able to grieve the loss of my daughter and honor her life with the gift of service to help others experience God’s healing love.”

One dad who attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat also spoke about how he was transformed by the weekend. “I never realized what a need there was in my life for this healing. I needed to consider that men need to heal also.”

In her diary “Divine Mercy in My Soul,” St. Faustina Kowalska recounted a conversation she had with Christ that beautifully describes his willingness to forgive and heal the broken.

Jesus told St. Faustina: “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in my mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of my mercy. My daughter, write about my mercy toward tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to my mercy delight me. To such souls I grant even more graces than asked. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to my compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in my unfathomable and inscrutable mercy.”

This is a truth that can change our lives, our parishes and our world. Let us not stand in the way of God’s mercy, but open the doors to it! Let us bring sinners to Jesus Christ and his Church and not judge them harshly.

I pray that Rachel’s Vineyard will spread throughout our archdiocese, bringing healing to all those who have been wounded by abortion and new life in Christ to those who are far from him. I pray too for those who want to limit the mercy of Jesus by their harshness toward women who have had abortions. May all of us receive in our hearts the “unfathomable and inscrutable mercy” of Jesus and proclaim it to a world that so desperately needs it!

To learn more about Rachel’s Vineyard, visit: www.rvrcolorado.org.

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.