Lately I have been a superhero fanatic. I cannot seem to get enough of them. Earlier this summer I saw The Dark Knight rises two days in a row, followed it up with Spiderman on day three, and on day four I watched Captain America on Netflix. Now, this might not prove anything accept that I am a complete nerd. But, judging by the money these movies are bringing in, I think it’s safe to say we as a country are on a Superhero binge. We can’t seem to get enough. But what is it exactly that attracts us to these movies? Certainly they are full of action, suspense and adventure. And then there are the superheroes themselves. When the rest of the world is running away from evil and danger the superhero stays put. He or she doesn’t move. The superhero has counted the cost and is willing to risk his or her life for the greater good. To make the sacrifice. That kind of courage is attractive! But I would say that ultimately, deep down inside, what attracts us to these movies is that we all desire at some level to be superheroes.
Now I am not suggesting here that we all want to put on tights and a cape, jump from buildings and fight crime. What I am suggesting, is that I think we all want to be courageous. We want to be brave. We want to contribute to bringing about the good in life; to sacrifice for others. And when everyone else seems to be running away, we want to stay.
Perhaps we all want to live this kind of life. The problem for us is this: we are not sure what it means to be a superhero in our own lives.
For the last five weeks the Catholic Church has been making her way through the 6th chapter of John known as the Bread of Life Discourse. Each week the mystery of the Eucharist has been revealed to us. The mystery that what takes place at this altar in just a few minutes is nothing less than bread and wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood. But among other things, what makes this mystery so provocative is this: if we believe in this miracle, then our lives can never be the same. For we become thrust into a completely new way of viewing life: that somehow our suffering is redemptive. That to gain our life we must lose it. That we are called to give rather than receive. That we are committed to a faith that is countercultural. That we will choose to give our lives to Jesus, because he was willing to sacrifice his life for us.
And this seems nothing less than choosing to be modern day superheroes. But who are these modern day superheroes?
Sasha is a modern day superhero: Struggling with depression, fighting thoughts of suicide and trying to raise six kids, she chose to get help. To not give up. To stay in the battle. To live her life, even though her depression was nothing less than hell, so that her children might grow up with their mother. She is a modern day superhero.
Max is a modern day superhero: just entering high school he came across a kid who was being picked on and bullied. Knowing that he would probably never live down the reputation he was about to gain, he stood up for this kid. Everyone else walked away, and he remained. He is a modern day superhero.
Mike is a modern day superhero: knowing how important faith is for his kids, he brings them to church every weekend despite their objections. He talks to them often about the importance of faith. And he speaks the challenging words to his kids knowing that in the short term they might hate him. But in the long term it might save their souls. Mike is a modern day superhero.
These people are all around us. You may be sitting next to one right now. For living our Catholic faith in our present age is nothing less than heroic, brave, and selfless. And each of us sitting here is being asked to live this kind of life.
And so the question comes to us today from Jesus just as it did to his followers 2000 years ago:
Do you also want to leave? Do you also want to leave?
Some left and returned to the life they were living. But some chose to stay; to stay and be superheroes recognizing that there was nowhere else to turn, that Jesus had the words of eternal life, and that he was the Holy One of God.
My brothers and sisters, as the years go on in this country it is only going to be more and more difficult to be Catholic. Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago reflected some years ago how difficult it will be to be Catholic in our present age when he said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Perhaps we are not being called to be martyrs. But the message of Christ—living out our Catholic faith—will require nothing less of us than to be modern day superheroes. To stay when everyone else is running away. To stand up for the good of all. To sacrifice. And to each day wake up and say to God, to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life.
I belong to a religious missionary community called the Glenmary Home Missioners. Now I am not saying this because I am a member of the community and want to include myself, but I think that Glenmary is made up of a lot of modern day superheroes. For over seventy-five years Glenmary has worked in the United States throughout the south, southeast and Appalachia, serving poor, neglected and very non-Catholic areas. Imagine, there are still hundreds of counties throughout these areas of the United States that have no Catholic presence. Areas where the people have never met a priest. Areas where mass has never been celebrated. Areas where a person has to drive 1-2 hours just to receive the Sacraments of the Church. And Glenmary has faithfully been going to these areas when no one else wanted to go, sometimes braving terrible experiences, in order to bring the gifts of the Catholic church to a people in need.
In just two weeks I am going to start my first assignment in Eastern Tennessee. This is Glenmary’s newest mission area. Imagine, in just 10 short months, this mission area has gone from just a Glenmary priest celebrating mass with a handful of Catholics in one of their homes—because they do not have a church—to hundreds of Catholics receiving the sacraments every single weekend as this growing Catholic population gathers in a store front. There is now talk that soon this once small community will have to build a church. And hopefully one day Glenmary will be able to hand this community over to the care of the diocese, and move on to yet another area where the people are longing for the gifts of the Catholic Church.
We are all called to live a heroic faith. The work that Glenmary does in the United States, though seemingly insignificant to many people, is heroic because it helps the most poor of this country. Please join us in this ministry by offering your support. Please pray for us. Consider a vocation to serve in the home missions. And if you are able, please consider helping us financially.
Thank you. Peace.