Marriage Missionaries: Three walks

In 1971, at seven years old, my family lived in a tent for the summer — as my dad fulfilled a longtime dream of building his own home.   Camping at Cherry Creek State Park was an adventure for me and my three siblings.  New people coming and going, with us wondering if the new campers had any kids.  Our days were spent hanging around the cool reservoir to soothe the hot summer days, and most evenings ended with camp fires crackling and acoustic guitars playing us to sleep. One night we were awakened by lightning and claps of thunder that rumbled the ground we slept on – trees sounding as though they could fall as the wind violently blew.  Dad scrambled outside to secure the canvas windows of the tent.  Breathing hard, he leapt back through the opening as giant raindrops began to pound our tent.  Within minutes, it was raining in torrents and our homey camp site was turning into a pond.  Mom and Dad snatched us and we took shelter in the car.

Reflecting on that era, there was a much larger storm raging: the sexual revolution.  Dr. Peter Kreeft, in “How to Win the Culture War” states, “Every single issue today which there is dissent in the Church is about sex; feminism, inclusive language, contraception, masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, fornication, divorce and re-marriage and the various clergy scandals.”  All of this can be daunting, as we have no idea where all of this is taking us.

Fast forward to 1993.  I, along with half a million people from around the world, flooded Cherry Creek State Park.  Sleeping bags and backpacks were spread out all over the ground, with people for as far as you could see full of joy and, yes, acoustic guitars –  singing praise and worship songs in every language known to man.  This extraordinary event was where I met the witness to hope: Pope John Paul II.

As we at Marriage Missionaries work with couples to help them to re-discover the joy of marriage and family life, we have come to discover that a large majority of individuals never received a consistent, glorious and magnificent vision of God’s plan for sexuality.  For generations there has been very little discussion in our homes about sexuality, and difficulty following God’s prescription for a healthy marriage.  We are left to figure out on our own the God-given hungers of our hearts.  From the culture, what we learn only brings enormous confusion.

JP II’s Theology of the Body is a deep, prayerful biblical study that boldly reminds each of us what it means to be human.  He revolutionized the idea that sex is not first a “verb,” something that we do.  Rather, sex is something that we are, male and female, made in the image and likeness of the Word who became flesh – Jesus Christ.  A way out of this cultural tsunami is through the eyes of St. John Paul II.

Read “The Theology of the Body for Beginners” by Christopher West, and let its beauty echo in your heart.  Then take a walk in Cherry Creek State Park or some other park this Spring; see, listen and catch the scent of God’s creation; flowers in bloom with aroma to attract bees for pollination, nests of new birds chirping with new life.  Ponder your own experience of life and love, what it means to be a man or a woman with eternal dignity.  Receive God’s love through this magnificent teaching.  Ask yourself, “How can I better live out this love?”  Walking as a beloved disciple of Jesus Christ, ask, “How can I share this love with my family and beyond?”

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.