Life in the balance

This past weekend close to 4,000 people rallied at the Colorado capitol building to encourage our state to protect life at every stage. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people willing to stand up for the vulnerable – whether they are unborn children or people bravely facing a terminal illness.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken of the “throw-away” mentality that has come to characterize not just how we relate to things but to people. At his March 4, 2015 general audience he said, “a certain culture of profit insists on making the elderly appear to be a burden, an extra weight. They are not only unproductive; they are an encumbrance, and are to be discarded. And discarding them is sinful. We do not dare to say this openly, but it happens.”

This profit-driven approach is apparent in cases like that of Barbara Wagner or Randy Stroup’s. Both of these people were sent letters by Oregon’s state-run health plan stating that it would not provide cancer treatment drugs but would pay for doctor-assisted suicide.

The same attitude lies behind the push to kill the unborn, the disabled, and those who are suffering – even if it’s done in the name of mercy.  How many times have we heard the argument, ‘This child is going to be disabled, so we should abort it,’ or, ‘This elderly woman is suffering from terminal cancer and feels like she is a burden on her family. She should be allowed to end her life.’

St. John Paul II insightfully pointed out another aspect of the disposable culture in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he said that the mindset behind abortion involves a “hedonistic mentality” that is “unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality” and regards procreation as “an obstacle to personal fulfilment” (Cf. EV, 13).

In other words, the throw-away culture is being driven by a mentality that is both self-centered and profit-centered, and the consequence of this is that all suffering is seen as an obstacle to real fulfillment.

The same can be said for the arguments being advanced by those seeking to legalize doctor-prescribed death. In the name of a false understanding of freedom and “death with dignity,” lawmakers and lobbyists argue that certain circumstances mean life has lost its value. They seem to believe that some disabilities or types of suffering stand in the way of being fulfilled and that the solution is to end that person’s life.

Pope Francis has rightly said that the fear of being weak and vulnerable is the driving force behind this argument, not a desire for freedom or true dignity. As Catholics, we know that true dignity comes from being a son or daughter of the Father and that no amount of suffering, disability, or circumstance can take that away.

We also can see this is true on a purely human level, since each of us can think of a time when we suffered in some way that made us a stronger, better person. The same thing is true of suffering in the face of death, those final moments when God is able to refine us and prepare us for our judgement.

As Colorado’s legislators consider House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 25 – the two bills that aim to legalize doctor-prescribed death – I urge you to consider what adopting the throw-away culture would do to our state. We Coloradans pride ourselves on being people who are welcoming, hospitable and caring, but if these bills become law, we will saying that certain types of lives can be discarded.

During his March 4 audience, Pope Francis gave voice to gravity of this decision, saying, “We are all a little fragile, the elderly. Some, however, are particularly weak, many are alone, and affected by illness. … Will we abandon them to their fate? A society without closeness, in which gratuitousness and selfless affection — even among strangers — are disappearing, is a perverse society.”

The Colorado I know is a place that comforts the afflicted and is close to those in need. Please join me in contacting our state representatives to speak up for the vulnerable and safeguarding the values of our state. In this Year of Mercy, I call on every Catholic to actively seek out God’s mercy, receive it, and bring it to others.

I encourage you, too, regardless of which political party you belong to, to participate in your caucuses on March 1 to bring Christian values into the public square and help rebuild a culture of life.

To contact your representative and to learn more about the caucus process, visit: www.cocatholicconference.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.