I love superheroes in comics and movies. They radiate the sense of altruistic heroism, the willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of all, which makes them very attractive and ideal to look up and as people for us to aspire to be. Nevertheless, these superheroes are not always perfect and they had to undergo many trials to become who they are called to be. On the other hand, we also see supervillains who are the nemeses of our heroic characters. These people, even though possessing great powers and influences, have some kinds of negative, selfish, or destructive qualities that turn them from being fully good, altruistic, or heroic with their words and actions. Therefore, in commemoration of Stan Lee and many of his superheroes who have Catholic backgrounds, I would like to take this moment to reflect on some Christian heroic qualities and villainous temptations to avoid in our own faith journey through life.
Sometimes we think of villains as people who are very evil and there can be no good coming from them. However, if we look closely and relate it to our own life, we see that it is very easy for us to be villainous. We see people do it all the times, and we ourselves could have done it in the past as well! It is also very easy to villanize people and forget that we are often very similar to them when we choose to put our own goods above others, willing to use others to get what we want, taking advantage of other people’s goodness or try to manipulate things to achieve our desires. Villians are simply people like us who twisted, perverted or misunderstand goodness hence “missing the mark” on their objective understanding and dealing with the world and others. The villains, whether in comics, movies, or real life, always particularized their versions of good by putting themselves in control and in power, willing to get them at all costs, even if it means the sacrificial cost of others. In their minds, whatever they have conceived and understood to be good might sound good (and sometimes persuasive) but it is not aligned with the truth and real goodness embedded in each and every one of us. Their moral compass is off and misaligned because they are motivated by their own versions of apparent goodness. Villians can be good to the people that they like, ones they have an affinity or respect, or those who are in their inner circles, but they cannot truly will or desire to the good of everyone and those that they do not like. Therefore, we can see this slippery slope in each and every one of us, just as the villains we see in movies, comics, or in history.
A hero is different. Even though he or she might still have personal struggles in choosing and making the right choices, a hero always tend to choose what is good for all, or at the least, the greater good of the people who are under his or her care. That is hard! Altruistic sacrifices are the common trait of a hero, for it is better to sacrifice one’s self for the good of others than to risk or will to seek things that one wants at all costs. The hero is willing to sacrifice themselves for others instead of expecting, manipulating, or demanding others to be played as chess pieces or as conveniences to their end goals and desires.
While the villains have no problem of excusing themselves to justify their actions as good, heroes struggle to discern what is right for all. While villains want to control and have power, heroes use their human and supernatural powers for those who are given to them to be protected. If heroes are faced with the choices of sacrificing others and sacrificing themselves at all costs, they would choose the self-sacrificial gift. All heroes had to learn to stop seeking the individualistic glories or self-justification in order to truly give themselves for the greater good of all, especially the weak and vulnerable.
Much more than comic or movie-based heroism, Christian heroic virtues are based on our relationship with the Lord, grounded in prayer, firm in the understanding of our moral responsibilities and duties, the ability to recognize the dignity of others and the divine presence in them, care for those who are around us, and the willingness to do what is right even at the costs of one’s self than to hurt others. Christian heroism is grounded in faith and in the right relationship with the Lord, which defines and substantiates one’s relationships with others. While superheroes depend on their superpowers, Christian heroes depend on God’s supernatural grace that transforms and gives them the necessary strength to overcome their natural human desires to seek the highest and transcendental good, even if it means the sacrifice of one’s self for the greater good of all. Furthermore, Christian heroism does not just worry about one’s end or good in this life, but for eternity in the light of eternal, never-changing, and everlasting values. Even if the heroes cannot humanly change the other side, they continue to trust in the power of prayer as to intercede for the salvation, redemption, and conversion of ones who are lost. Instead of simply depending on one’s powers and abilities, Christian heroes choose the road that is often less traveled and chosen by many, which seems to be very unappealing and, many times, too simple for this world.
Christ as the example par excellence of Christian heroism has all the powers in the universe as its Creator and Lord. When He was wronged by the Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the Law, He did not return the favor with evil or punitive retributions. When He was betrayed by His friends and enemies, He did not return the evil with equal (or greater) showing of force and power. When He was crucified on the Cross, He could have called the legions of angels to come to His aid, abandon His salvific and redemptive plan, or choose another alternative as the Lord of the universe, but He chose the unimaginable decision to embrace all the hurts and wrongdoings for the love of us. He superseded our human expectations by laying down His life for the greater love of all. Jesus Christ teaches us that the greatest power is not found in the showing of humanistic powers and controls but the laying down of one’s life for the greatest good of all.
In very real ways, we can see this sense of supernatural, faith-based, heroic lifestyle in the saints and martyrs who have chosen to love Christ first. Their love for the Lord changed them first as they become dependent on His loving grace. Their ultimate purpose is not to save the world, get their names known, or any other humanistic tendencies, but to love Him and let His name be enlivened in and through them. Christian heroism begins first with the death of one’s self so that Christ takes possession of their whole being. From there, these heroes pray, discern, and make themselves available to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as to best put into practice the gifts that their Creator has endowed or given to them for the greater good of all. This supernatural, faith-based, spiritually-grounded, and prayerfully-oriented way of life begins, sustains, and ends with the grace of God. It is motivated by the love of Him, hence seeking to serve and to make Him know in one’s daily life, and to give witness to this life-changing love — even if it means to die. Christian heroism is deeply connected with martyrdom, beginning with the white, pure, unadulterated love for Christ, and sometimes, ends with the red, self-sacrificial, and life-giving gift of faith in witness to the greater love of God. This is the love in which Saint Paul reminded us to “do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
We love superheroes! However, we are called not just to admire and read about them but actually take on the heroic calling with our own life. It is important to remember that we are called not to simply be superheroes because we possess super powers that make us look cool or stand out from the rest, but to use the gifts that have been given to us for the enrichment, support, and love of others. If we recognize that basic and foundational reality, we will recognize that we are all called to be heroic, and each and every one of us can be these heroes who truly give the gift of ourselves to others. More than that, we are joyful because, as Christians, we are called for a greater love and life of heroism that is empowered, deepened, and strengthened by the love of God. Therefore, let us not be afraid or remain complacent, standing by the wayside or act as spectators, but to actually take part in this life of self-giving and sacrificial love as Christian heroes of supernatural faith, love, and charity.
Simply put, let us dare to be holy because our Creator is holy, saintly because He has created us out of His divine and life-giving love, lovely because we are meant to love, full of hope because of our firm believe in God’s goodness and faithfulness, and full of charity because we care enough to share the gifts that He has given us to others who are around us. With a personal and intimate faith, abundant hope, and self-sacrificial love, let us choose to embark on the beautiful God-given journey of giving ourselves for the greater good of all so that everyone can encounter and see the divine presence of Him who is living in and through us — in and through all. Let us be Christian heroes!