There seems to be no end to the superhero movies we have just seen and are excited to soon watch. Hollywood, however, isn’t the only one putting visual life into our favorite comic heroes and heroines. There are others coming up with ‘new types’ of heroes through novels, music and even in the advertising industry. Whether they are classical, epic, sci-fi, pop art and music icons, they all represent for us the attractive concept of a hero.
But what makes heroes attractive? And what draws us to see a film, read a book or watch a play about someone or something we fully know may not even exist in real life? Why are people today, besides reliving childhood memories, so captivated by hero stories?
Basically, what really makes a hero? E. Berkhart explains that in ancient times heroes were “persons, –real ones like Alexander the Great or mythical ones like Achilles– who are remembered for the great feats they accomplished. They were considered superior to the ordinary mortal (…) the Greek ideal of heroism was not able to achieve all its strength and influence because it was something reserved only for a few. (Daily Life and Holiness in the Teachings of St. Josemaría).”
Today, this observation holds true, we only want ‘fast-food heroes.’ We are comfortable with paying to watch and read about them, but we never come to asking ourselves the essential question: Why can’t I be a hero? Or are we seeking heroes that are mere dehydrated palliative emotional icons? Just water them with a bit of feelings, sentiments and special effects and they temporarily relieve us of our inner emotional migraines, but without really curing them.
Berkhart gives an interesting observation that sheds light on our reluctance to become real heroes. “In today’s market economy, the goods that producers desire to offer everyone are given at a low price so that anyone can purchase them. This is not so in the economy of grace. Holiness is offered to everyone, and everyone can attain it. But it will always require heroism. Yes, it is in everyone’s reach, not because it is something gained without any effort, but because all are capable of the heroism it entails. (Ibid.)”
So that’s it! Grace isn’t something we can obtain at a cheap price. As with any business, as St. Josemaría would say, a great deal of investment or sacrifice is necessary if we hope to get any substantial and lasting returns. The same goes for the business concerning our supernatural destiny, the business concerning our souls.
Unfortunately, this is not readily admitted or accepted by many. They would willingly pay any sum for a good movie, a page gripping book or even see an awesome concert to enjoy different hero icons. The sacrifice they are investing only goes so far as to ‘feel good or inspired’ watching something entertaining but never transforming. They come out literally unchanged!
Today’s heroes are raised on pedestals to be admired, to be referred to or even turned to for help, and remembered for getting close to them. But the audience, including you and me, prefers to remain distant from the unique possibilities our brief and singular existence offers: The chance of becoming a hero in God’s presence, that is, to become a saint.
Quoting Benedict XVI, the Berkhart adds, “Christian revelation has taught holiness as something universal. Every faithful, for being a son of God, is originally vested with the grandeur of Christ; and all the instances of his life are open to eternity, in a manner that in every moment there can take place heroic deeds of immeasurable value, since he can love God and all people, leading the powers of his own being to their fullness.
If ancient culture considered sufficient the excellence of a determined virtue –courage, audacity, loyalty…–, the Christian ideal requires heroism, simultaneously in all the virtues because holiness is in the heroism of love, which is needed by all the virtues.”
We have to discover ways, primarily through personal awareness and sincerity, in order to discover what we can truly and uniquely offer to God. The element of heroism, which is not restricted to one majestic act or feat, is our constant desire and effort to salt our every thought, word and act with love.
And it is this love, like our faith, the size of a mustard seed, sown discretely and silently in the midst of our most trifling and routine engagements that we become heroes! There is heroism in the light of a constant smile, the courage to forgive, the patience in performing daily chores, and the unfailing faith in prayer and sacrifice, etc.