Lately I’ve been thinking about my own tendency toward hero-worship and about its merits and dangers. I suppose we all crave the notion of the idealized man or woman who can always be counted on to do good even under extreme duress. This idea of a hero gives us something to aspire to. But, what does “do good” really mean? If your hero is a great general, then perhaps good means leading an army to victory and killing more of the enemy than he kills of yours. If your hero is of the exaggerated comic book variety, good might include thwarting the evil genius’ plan and then delivering him to the authorities (or perhaps killing him, reluctantly).
Although popular media has become more complex in the last generation when it comes to exploring this theme, it still seems that the true measure of heroism, sacrifice for the sake of others, is often left behind or slyly avoided. A great example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movie trilogy, wherein Nolan sets up the Batman to take the wrap for killing the popular DA Harvey Dent (so far, so good) and then later to zoom a ticking atomic bomb away from the city and perish while saving the millions of Gotham City… except, Nolan can’t quite do it. He just had to have the final scene show a very much intact Bruce Wayne sipping wine with Catwoman in a Paris cafe. Nolan belies his own script in which the Batman earlier previews the ultimate sacrifice:
Catwoman: Come with me. Save yourself. You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.
Batman: Not everything. Not yet.
Of course, we really do have sacrificial heroes among us, and should recognize them. Just this evening I noticed that a TV channel was playing a series of 9/11 documentaries and ended up watching one of them based on the firefighters of Engine Company/Ladder Company 10 in New York. Based in the so-called Ten House next to the World Trade Center, these heroic men responded to terrorist attack within minutes, saved many civilians while their own lives were at risk, and ultimately lost six of their brothers. These examples of dramatic heroism by police, emergency responders, and soldiers are out there and deserve recognition. They are inspirational.
Nevertheless, for a young man from a broken home, filling the gap of heroes in his life by looking around our secular world becomes an exhausting exercise of observation, hope, attachment and very often disappointment. He eventually realizes that perfection is not to be found in this world, and near-perfection is just about as rare. In the Church we have Saints whose lives are marked by heroic virtue, but are still imprinted with our First Parents’ legacy of concupiscence. Moses was good, but he was only the best of a stiff-necked people, after all. So goes the rest of humanity.
Except for two. I’ve heard it explained that Mary was filled with grace and wasn’t drawn to commit sin, in order to be a fitting mother for Jesus, the truly perfect example of humanity. Be that as it may, for a hero-shopper what a complete and complimentary set of examples to aspire to, who will never let you down. The God who’s numbered the very hairs of my head, has also filled my hero-gap by taking on human nature and becoming incarnate of the Virgin. He atones for all human sin by allowing himself to be murdered in order to save us, and his mother sacrifices her very heart as she watches her son silently assent to every human torture.
I’m probably not yet completely cured and will likely need some serious purgation to disentangle my various earthly attachments. Nevertheless, these days I try to surround myself with decent people whom I seek to treat decently. But I don’t expect perfection out them or myself.