Rocky Balboa, John’s Gospel, and the New Evangelization

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“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place…it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.”

These words were uttered by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa, a final chapter to the famous Rocky movies. Balboa is speaking these words to his grown son, who is struggling to find his place in the real world as an adult. His son blames Rocky’s success as the main reason why living his life is too hard. Rocky’s words are extremely relevant to living life as a Christian in today’s world.

With all of the trending news lately, which in our culture will be forgotten in a couple of weeks, there is a lot of talk about how hard it is to be a Christian today. Same sex marriage is now to be recognized in all 50 states. Bruce Jenner has been given an award and a TV show because of his transformation into a woman. The Little Sisters of the Poor are required to provide contraceptives as part of their health insurance. Christians are being forced from their homes, persecuted and killed for their faith. If you claim to be pro-life, people label you as anti-woman. If you claim to support marriage as being between a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children as well as the mutual betterment of the spouses, you are labeled hateful or discriminatory.

So no, being a Christian in today’s world is not all sunshine and rainbows. The world is full of mean and nasty people, broken people. The world is a mean and nasty place, and that is nothing new. The world, after all, is not Heaven. The world, after all, rejected God made man in the Person of Jesus Christ.

There are two things we need to be focusing on in the midst of all of this. First and foremost, we need to remind ourselves that none of this is new. It is so easy to get bogged down lately with what seems like a constant barrage of attacks and punches thrown at the Church and her teachings. Our news feeds are filled with so many people who disagree with us. That paired with the emotional anger behind a lot of these issues make it seem like things are only going to get worse and life as we know it is over.

Once again, none of this is new. Not now, not 40 years ago, not 2000 years ago. Jesus came into the world and the world preferred darkness to light (John 3:19). It did then and it does today. But, Jesus reminds us that we are not of this world no more than He was of this world. (John 17:14) Jesus reminds us that we are called to be light for this darkened world.

Take courage. Be not afraid. Have faith. Live in hope.

How often have we heard these or similar phrases? Taken directly from the Scriptures, Popes and Saints have said them time and time again. These words from Christ are not a flowery idea, but said for a reason. If Jesus tells us to not be afraid, then that obviously means there is something out there that will cause us to fear. If we are told to live in hope, that means there will be times when we are faced with despair. If we are told to have faith, then that shows us that our faith will be put to the test. It was true for those in earshot of Jesus when He spoke those words and it is true today.

The second thing we must focus on is what are we to do about all of this?

We are not meant to simply point our finger at the world and condemn it and blame the world for making it so hard to be a Christian (John 3:17). We are not meant to be knocked down by the world and kept there. Instead, like Rocky says to his son, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…how much you can take and keep moving forward.  This world is not our home; we are here on a journey.

On this journey, we will encounter those who agree and disagree with us about the different teachings of the Church. (This is not new either, see John 6). Many of those who disagree with us will be respectful and maintain friendships. Others may treat us poorly, try to force us into changing our mindset, “defriend” us. They may be mean and nasty to us; we mustn’t return the favor. Instead, we are called to love and share the good news.

We need to think of new ways to spread the good news so that it doesn’t come across as bad or negative. When the world throws a hard punch at us for being Christian, we take it and keep moving forward. Rather than throwing a hard punch back, rather than telling someone that a certain lifestyle is sinful (because, let’s be honest, that means nothing to many people), it is important to show the positive alternative. Share what is good about marriage. Talk about the dignity and purpose with which God has created each human being; be a witness to the joy that comes from following Christ.

So, yes, the world can be viewed as a mean and nasty place. It can, at times, knock us to our knees. This is nothing new. We are called to follow Christ’s example, including getting up when we are knocked down as we carry our cross. When we are “whipped” and “hit” by the world, we do not return blow for blow. Yet we must get up and keep moving forward on our journey. Holiness and joy are attractive. Negativity, fear, condemnation, and judgement are not. After all, it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. Thanks, Rocky.


Matthew Higgins

Matthew Higgins

Matthew Higgins serves as Assistant to the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Newark and adjunct professor of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University. He holds a Master's degree in Systematic Theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. His 10 year ministerial experience ranges from Junior High faith formation to Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry. He lives with his wife, Olivia and 2 children in Northern NJ.

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1 thought on “Rocky Balboa, John’s Gospel, and the New Evangelization”

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    Excellent points. I really like how you mention that “none of this is new”–this fact gives a lot of hope to Catholics, I believe. I have found that reading St. Paul’s letters is particularly encouraging, because the situations he addressed to the early Church are very applicable in our modern day!

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