By Father Kyle
Super-heroes, mutants, and monsters make for amazing books, movies, and television shows. This is one of the reasons why companies like Disney, which now owns both the Marvel franchise and the Star Wars franchise, are so successful. We love almost anything that shows people with superhuman or supernatural abilities that put them a step above the human race. Spider-man, Superman, Captain America, Hulk, Black Panther, Wolverine, Magneto, Avengers and Justice League, Jedi and Sith, Vampires and Werewolves, Witches and Warlocks – these are not just what many children often wear for Halloween. They are creations by our culture that are literary and cinematic attempts to transcend our human weaknesses and limitations, just as our rapid advances in technology are practical attempts at doing so. While I do really enjoy movies and television shows with these heroes, mutants, and monsters, I do think it is interesting that much of what occupies our attention in entertainment these days is stuff that seeks to do away with what is human. This is actually one of the main themes of the X-men comics and movies – it is all about human beings giving way to those who are more evolved, those who are mutants and have superior powers and abilities. Sometimes I wonder if super-heroes, mutants, and monsters in literature and entertainment are seen as therapeutic for us, numbing our senses to the pains of human life and distracting us from the demands placed upon us by our eternal destiny.
Whoa! Pretty deep, right? I know this is all very philosophical, but believe it or not, it does relate to this great solemnity that we celebrate today. Today is All Saints Day, a day when we venerate, honor, and celebrate all the saints in heaven, all the holy men and women from every time and place, those who are canonized and those who are unknown, who are already enjoying what we hope to one day enjoy ourselves. The saints are not super-heroes, mutants, or virtuous monsters; they are human beings like you and me. They did not possess superhuman abilities or powers of themselves; rather, God’s divine power was at work in them and through them. In the Magnificat, there is a brief meditation by Georges Bernanos for today’s solemnity, in which he says, “A hero gives us the illusion of surpassing humanity. But the saint does not surpass it: he assumes humanity; he strives to realize it as well as possible.” Bernanos goes on to explain that the saints achieve this by imitating the perfect human, Jesus Christ. This is what makes saints different from much of what we saw yesterday on Halloween. Saints are not elements of fiction; they are real people who really lived and walked on this earth. Saints do not transcend humanity; by God’s grace and power, saints embrace their humanity and live it well, and their reward is not found in fame, fortune, or power. Their reward is God Himself, and they desire all of us on earth, you and me, to share in that reward with them. They pray for us, teach us by their example, and wait for us on the other side of this life.
While many super-heroes, mutants, and even some monsters, do great things in books, movies, and shows for other people, the saints light a pathway for us in the real world. Their lives on earth were marked by purity and praise, just as their lives in eternity are pure and directed to praising God. In the vision from the Book of Revelation that we just heard, the saints in heaven wore white garments, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Through a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice, they purified themselves from everything worldly. They also held palm branches in their hands, signs of their victory, and what were they doing? They were crying out in loud voices in praise to God and to the Lamb. The saints praised the Lord on earth, in the Mass, in prayer, in Eucharistic Adoration, and in the way they lived, and now they praise God forever in heaven. They survived the struggles of this life, the pains of suffering and persecution, and now they are in perfect peace and joy. They have not only obtained their reward, but they have also reached the culmination of their Christian lives on earth. They lived the Beatitudes here below, and now they enjoy forever what Christ promised in those Beatitudes. Their hope during their time on earth was undimmed, even amidst trials and pain, and now they have no need to hope because they enjoy the object and subject of that hope.
We are living on the same earth on which they lived and died. We are breathing in the same air they did. We are facing many of the same sufferings and trials that they did. We struggle with our own sinfulness and weaknesses, as they did with theirs. We proclaim the Gospel and share the Catholic faith with a world that often opposes us, as it opposed them. Even though we cannot see them, they are with us in the Mass, and they are always praying for us and leading us to grow in holiness. They are helping us to become pure ourselves and to praise God more fervently and constantly in our daily lives. They have already run the race and fought the good fight, and now they are cheering us onward and waiting for us at the finish line, in the victor’s circle. So, you see, we do not need super-heroes, mutants, or monsters; we need saints, and we need to strive to be saints ourselves, not leaving our humanity behind, but living it well. The world does not need a fantasy in which to lose itself; it needs the prayers and example of the holy men and women who have gone before us, the prayers and example of the holy men and women we are called to be.