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Aug 12, 2023 3716 Deacon Jim McFadden
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More than a Superhero

Who is your favorite hero? Have you ever met a superhero in your life?

As a kid growing up in San Francisco in the ‘50s, we had our heroes, usually of the cowboy variety— paramount of whom was John Wayne, who could go where he wanted to go, had a code that he lived by, defeated the bad guys (or those whom the society at that time deemed to be ‘bad guys’), got the girl at the end, and rode off into the sunset. As the USA was moving from a victory over the Axis powers following WWII into the perils of the Cold War (nuclear war drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.), the heroic figure of John Wayne was appealing, as we longed for a time when our trails were indeed ‘happy.’

Meet the Real Hero

Fast forward to 2022, and the desire for heroes still persists. Just look at the superhero franchises that dominate mainstream movies. The Marvel movies and their ilk, which resemble more ‘theme park’ experiences than exploring the complexities of our human experience, offer us a seemingly endless supply of superheroes (not just ‘heroes’ but ‘superheroes’!) who defeat our enemies. When dealing with the ravages of the global pandemic, the war in Europe, nuclear saber-rattling, global warming, economic uncertainty, and violence on the streets of the United States, superheroes address our desire that great men and women can overcome the dangers that are thrust upon us.

At this juncture, a Christian may raise his hand and say, “Well, we have a hero that tops any and all ‘superheroes,’ and His name is Jesus.”

That raises the question, is Jesus a hero? I don’t think so, because a hero does something that the ordinary person can’t or won’t do, so, we vicariously watch them overcome enemies, which temporarily relieves us of our anxiety until it inevitably returns with the next crisis.

While Jesus is not a hero in the conventional sense, He definitely is a warrior of a unique kind: He is the Word of God who became human to save us from sin and death. He is going to battle with these arch-enemies, but He is not going to use weapons of aggression, violence, and destruction.

Rather, He will overcome them through mercy, forgiveness, and compassion, all brought to the fore through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Notice how He overcame sin and death. Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, He absorbed our sin—our dysfunction, disorder, inhumanity, self-absorption—and became sin. According to St. Paul: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Though Jesus is not a sinner because He is divine—the second person of the Trinity—He took our sin and for a time ‘became sin,’ which killed Him. The harsh reality is that our sins killed Jesus, the Son of God.

But, the Christian story did not end on Good Friday because three days later, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. In so doing, our arch-enemies—sin and death—were vanquished.

So, Jesus is definitely the supreme spiritual warrior, but He’s not a hero in the conventional sense. Why not?

Thread in Divine Tapestry

Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection are the key marks of the Paschal Mystery, the mystery of our Faith. Notice the ‘our.’

Jesus went through His suffering and dying —not to spare us from going through it— but to show us how to live and suffer so that we may experience resurrected life now and for eternity. You see, as baptized members of His mystical Body, the Church, we “move, live, and have our being” in Jesus (Acts 17:28).

To be sure, He wants us to believe in Him because, as we hear in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Building on that foundational belief, we’re called to be His disciples to carry out His Mission, which He gave to His Church at His Ascension (cf. Mark 16:19-20 and Matthew 28:16-20). More to it, we’re called to participate in His very Being. As Romano Guardini notes in his spiritual classic, The Lord, “we are like a thread in a divine tapestry: we realize our humanity in and through Him.” In other words, we do as Jesus modeled for us.

Participating in the Resurrected and Glorified Presence of Jesus through the Sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist, we live the Paschal Mystery through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. So, is Jesus a hero? Listen to what Peter said when Jesus asked him: “Who do people say that I am?” Peter’s reply: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:17). Jesus is more than a hero; He is a warrior of a unique kind. He is the sole and universal SAVIOR!

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Deacon Jim McFadden

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He serves in adult faith formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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