When pursuing virtue, try the buddy system

If you open the drawer of Catherine Warner’s entertainment center, you’ll find a stack of books about patience.

“I’ve read them all,” said the 25-year-old in her Denver apartment. “It’s been something I’ve tried to work on my whole life.”

A lack of dependable family relationships and a need to control and plan life impacted her faith.

“Nothing ever happens when I want it to,” Warner said. “That has really impacted my faith over the years when something doesn’t happen when I want it to—I struggle a lot with that.”

Once she joined a virtue team through the nonprofit ministry Catholic Young Adult Sports, www.CatholicYoungAdultSports.com, Warner gained friends who became accountability partners in her pursuit of virtue.

Every month the teams meet, or stay in touch via email, to read from a spiritual book about virtue. They formulate goals and deliberate how to overcome obstacles to practicing certain virtues.

Some team members said such a support group has been pivotal to their spiritual growth.

Last summer, Warner faced looming questions about job prospects, moving to Denver and exercising patience with her family. Looking back, she said she “was a mess.”

She joined a virtue team with other women, which she now leads, and they studied patience.

“That same week exactly when we read about patience, I said, ‘OK, I need to take the passenger’s seat and not do all the driving,” she said. “Sometimes you have to be patient with what God has in store for you.”

She now has a job at the Ball Corporation, an apartment in Denver and improved relationships with her family.

“I realized God can serve you the most when you don’t have an agenda,” she said.

 

Prayer

Jeremy Stallmo, 33, joined a men’s group a couple of years ago to advance with his goals. He meets with the others monthly to discuss and share goals in obtaining a virtue or overcoming a vice.

“It’s a way for me to become more responsible,” he said. “It makes me more likely to do the right thing.”

The St. Louis Church in Louisville parishioner said prayer was something he struggled to do regularly.

“I wanted to kick into gear on praying,” he said.

His original goal was to say 10 minutes of prayer three to four days a week.

“Normally, when I got to bed I wanted to say my prayers but it was always so easy to get tired,” he said. “It’s hard to stay awake.”

After meeting with his group, he changed his goal. He decided to use time in between getting off work and helping lead a religious education class weekly at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Broomfield.

“Before I would just go home and not do much until I had to go to class,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not just make it an hour and do it before going to class?’ It has allowed me to focus and pay more attention.”

Stallmo hit a snag when his religion class took a summer break. Praying became difficult.

“If my habit gets broken, it’s easy for me to come up with excuses,” he said.

This fall, he began teaching again. With his schedule, he’s begun to pray again weekly.

“I do it on my own now,” he said.

The group motivated him to set prayer time. He sometimes looks forward to prayer and is better able to face obstacles.

“Sometimes I feel like I really do have a stronger relationship with Christ and I feel better,” he said.

 

Lifetime of virtues

After struggling to achieve patience with herself and others, Warner decided to develop an approach.

When her patience was tried at work or with family, she said she took a deep breath and instead of quickly reacting, she took a moment to respond.

“It really made a difference and I didn’t feel so overwhelmed,” she said.

She shared her struggles with her virtue team and said that time was crucial.

“After I gave into the virtue of patience, everything fell into place,” Warner said. “Now I’ve moved and I love where I live; my relationships with my family and friends are a lot more settled.”

She said she learned that the virtue was already within herself but it was something she had to uncover. She said the accountability of the team changed her life for the better.

“It’s funny—last night I opened all the books in my drawer and I started smiling,” she said, “because as much as I’m now patient with my job and family, I think it’s always something I need to work on.”

She added having the foundation of patience aided by the virtue team “helped me grow close to God in every aspect of my life.”

 

 

 

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.