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A time for Christian heroes


J.P. Mauro - WP

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 07/27/16

If we do not aspire to be saints, then we do not aspire to what God made us for

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When I was a little boy, I believed in heroes—“super” and otherwise. I believed that Batman would protect me from villains, that the government would protect me from invaders, that my teachers would tell me the truth, and that Sunday school would teach me all I need to know about God. Those heroes proved to be hollow, and growing up demanded the painful surrendering of those illusions.

Now that I am older, sadder, and—I hope—wiser, I have to ask, should we still wish for heroes? Yes! Yes! Yes! We still need people who run into burning buildings to rescue children, still need folks armed and brave to run towards gunfire and not from it, still need teachers who love truth when the world loves lies, still need faithful Catholics to beget large families in a world that mocks such generosity. We need heroes. We need saints.

Here we might be tempted to shake our head and say, “Heroes—fine—maybe when the chips are down I could rise to the occasion. But be a saint? Not me! Not possible!” But it would be a mistake to look at the saints and say, “That can never be me. I can never be a saint.” No! We must look at the weakness of the saints, and then our own weakness, and then look at the power of God. If we do that, then we can marvel and say, “If God can make an evangelist out of a pagan like Augustine, if he can make a hero out of brawler like Ignatius Loyola, if he can make a ‘steel magnolia’ out of a whiney little brat like Therese, then what might God be able to do with the likes of me? What might God be able to do with the likes of me, if only I let Him?

What is a tragedy? It is not simply a great loss. It is not simply an avoidable loss. A tragedy is a loss that cannot be redeemed. It is a loss of the greatest good for which there is no sufficient compensation. With this in mind, we can understand the words of the French writer Leon Bloy who wrote, “’Life holds only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.” Being a saint is what we are made for. The fulfillment of the human vocation is to be a saint. What consolation can there be for failing to be truly human? That’s why I say that we set our sights too low. If we do not aspire to be saints, then we do not aspire to what God made us for, we only desire to be something else, something far, far less than sanctity and humanity. How tepid and how ungracious we can be! For the love of God we ought to aim higher, and for the love of neighbor, we need to aim higher.

It is a constant teaching of the Church that one can become a great saint simply by performing with great love the daily duties of one’s state in life. And sometimes, heroic sanctity can be seen in those who see a great need, push past their fear and confusion, and do what needs to be done. What most needs to be done now, I believe, is for heroes to step forward, to put themselves between the vulnerable and bloodthirsty monsters and say, “You can’t have them anymore!” We need to stand up and draw the line between the unborn and those who would sell their parts for profit; we need to stand up and draw the line between the heirs of the Christian West and those who would deprive them of their heritage; we need to draw a line between the Church and those who would sell her for worldly gain.

Please, today, with family and friends, read aloud this rallying cry from the Office of Readings from the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda:

We are warriors now, fighting on the battle field of faith, and God sees all we do;
the angels watch and so does Christ.
– What honor and glory and joy, to do battle in the presence of God,
and to have Christ approve our victory.
Let us arm ourselves in full strength
and prepare ourselves for the ultimate struggle,
with blameless hearts, true faith and unyielding courage.
– What honor and glory and joy, to do battle in the presence of God,
and to have Christ approve our victory.

In our time and place, there is a need for heroes. What makes human life lovely and Christian practice possible are under assault. Our children look to us; our ancestors judge us; God is watching. Please, for the love of God and neighbor, to secure the future and to honor the past, let us together find a way to be the heroes that are needed now.

When I write next, I will offer a meditation on unexpected death. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Do you aspire to be a Saint?]

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