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It makes no sense to be a lukewarm Christian

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by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

A couple years ago, I had the chance to see the movie, “The Cinderella Man.” The film was about a boxer in the 1920s and ’30s by the name of James Braddock. The movie begins by showing Jimmy Braddock as a young, promising boxer. He is on a path to have a chance for the championship. Then, the story leaps forward a few years into the middle of the Great Depression. Jimmy Braddock, like so many, lost all of his savings in the stock market crash. As a result of injuries and having to fight hurt, he had lost several fights and eventually had his boxing license revoked because of his failure to compete effectively.

He begins working on the docks, but there are not enough jobs to go around. He does not get hired every day, and the pay is minimal. To keep his family together, he has to go on welfare and endure the added humiliation of begging for assistance from his former acquaintances in boxing. At one point, the film shows Jimmy Braddock painfully watching his wife watering down the milk to make it last for their children.

Actually, it probably was not that bad for the children. During that era, everyone drank whole milk. Braddock’s wife was perhaps the first to make 2% milk. Nevertheless, not being able to provide enough milk for his children was symbolic of Jimmy Braddock’s utter frustration of not being able to care properly for his family.

When things seem most desperate, he is given the opportunity to box again, filling in for an injured fighter. Without any chance to train, he is thrown into the ring with one of the leading contenders. Surprising everyone, Jimmy Braddock wins. This sets in motion a series of unlikely events that actually give him the opportunity to fight for the championship.

The boxing professionals fear a huge mismatch. The current champion has killed two of his previous opponents. Some of the boxing hierarchy feared this fight may turn out to be a disaster for boxing if Braddock is killed in the ring. At one point, the promoter makes Jimmy Braddock watch film of the champion killing those two previous opponents. The promoter’s lawyer wants Braddock to sign a release acknowledging that he is completely aware of the risk that he is taking.

Jimmy Braddock responds, “Do you think you are telling me something, by telling me that boxing is dangerous?” Braddock is more than willing to subject himself to the risk in the ring in order to provide for his family.

In a press conference, Jimmy Braddock is asked: “What has changed?” The reporter wants to know what has suddenly made him able to win again when he was so ineffective in the ring just a few years ago.

Braddock first responds that before he was fighting injured, but now he is healthy. Then he says, “Now I know what I am fighting for.” The reporter asks, “Jimmy, what are you fighting for?” Braddock simply responds, “Milk!”

Jimmy Braddock now realized that he was fighting for his wife, his children, and his ability to provide for his family.

I am certain every husband and father reading this column believes that his wife and his children are worth fighting and even dying for. As Christians, we value the importance of marriage and family — more so, I believe, than anyone else in society today. Yet, we believe even these most precious of human relationships are built upon something even more fundamental and more important: our relationship with God, our relationship with Jesus Christ.

My time in the Holy Land was truly inspiring. I hope to write about some
of the experiences in future columns. However, I could not help but be struck, traveling as a part of a group that traces its roots to the knights who risked life and fortune to recover access to the places sacred to Christians, that the Crusaders had found something, or rather someone, worth living and dying for: Jesus Christ. They staked their lives and fortunes on serving him and, in par- ticular, protecting and preserving the places made sacred by Jesus when he walked this earth. They gave their lives so that others might have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of Our Lord.

The courage of the early Christians, many of whom were martyred because they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, epitomizes what is required to be a true disciple of Jesus. It is nonsensical to be a lukewarm or mediocre Christian. Either Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, the Son of God, who redeems us from our sins and offers us eternal life, or he is not. If we believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God who gave his life for us, how can we fail to believe he is worth everything — even sacrificing our life in this world? Indeed, friendship with Jesus, the “Man Who Lives,” is worth living and dying for!

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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