Who Are the Heroes?
A wise scholar once said: “Few people rise above the problem of themselves.” To support this statement this writer went on to say – “…that because people consider their small problems too mundane compared to the problems that face their community and humanity as a whole, they never attempt to rise above them.” The consequence we see is that they fail at times to leave the comfort of their lives and choose not to do things that would make others’ lives better, happier, and safer. They hesitate to show the world the “right” path, stand up against wrong or put others’ intents above their own.
On the other hand, we know there are those for whom these words have no basis. These are the special people we call heroes. They are those…
…who are admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievement or noble qualities and are regarded as role models
…who have made noble or brave accomplishments, particularly for others
Believe it or not, the actual word hero never comes up in the New Testament. But St. Paul in Romans 15: 1 & 2 alludes to its precise meaning when he writes: “We who are strong ought to help the weak to carry their burdens. We should not please ourselves. Instead we should all please our brothers and sisters for their own good, in order to build them up.” Paul has enumerated three characteristics of a true hero with this commission. He was not referring to the supermen characters of film and stories, but the everyday men and women who strive to…
- be a helper who assists those in need
- be a supporter who strengthens the weaknesses of others with their strength
- be a friend who contributes to the care and concern of another’s welfare.
Our world loves celebrities, indeed “idolizes them and puts them up on pedestals,” says the scholar referred to previously. He goes on to say: “A celebrity is defined by fame. A celebrity gains status through qualities easy to spot, but does not necessarily make a lasting impact on the world. A true hero is defined by character, not by super human activities. And their character is about qualities that are not visible, but only seen through such acts that display selflessness, humility, patience, caring, passion, integrity, honesty, confidence or courage.”
Then there are the heroes whose lives we, as Catholics, celebrate. They have gone over and above the world of ordinary heroes. We call these men and women the saints. In a book on Christian ethics called Improvisation, Sam Wells has listed some wonderful reflections on the difference between a hero of this world and a saint. He writes: “There is a significant difference between the story that is told about cultural heroes and the kind of story that is told about saints. “ He points out to his readers that the first type of hero tries to make a decisive intervention at a moment when things are looking like they could all go badly. The hero steps up and tries to make everything turn out right. The hero is honored for his or her virtues – in other words, their own accomplishments. There is, of course, courage, wisdom, etc. involved in this behavior. But it is to be noted, as well, that almost without fail our experience has shown us that the hero is always at the center of the story. In contrast to that type of hero is the saint who is often almost invisible, easily missed. His or her story is always at the periphery of a story that is really all about God. The saint may not be viewed as strong, brave, clever or opportunistic in a worldly sense, but the saint is faithful. And so we see that the story of the hero is told to rejoice in valor whereas the story of the saint is told to celebrate faith.
In our quest for sainthood God asks us to be the kind of hero who sometimes must stand alone in or even against the world. God expects a response from his followers – his saints — that they cannot give on their own. They depend not only on God, but on one another for resources that can sustain faithful lives. They discover that their dependence on one another is central to their witness. Sainthood requires community; we call it the Communion of Saints. The saint learns to depend on God and on the community of faith. The saint knows that light only comes through the cracks of life and that the beauty of heroism is about accomplishing God’s will and bringing about God’s love in the world.
November is the month dedicated to All Souls and All Saints in the Catholic Church. As we remember those who have gone before us, let us ponder the questions: Who have been my saintly heroes in my life? Who helped me to be a true Christian person? Who taught me more about what real Christian living and modeling is all about? What kind of hero do I wish to be? Finally, how much am I like Jesus – my true hero?
November 11, 2018
Sr. Lauretta Leipzig