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Superheroes and Heroes

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | May 13, 2024

The Apostles expected the Messiah to be a superhero. The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus was the apex of their three years with Him. Before His Ascension into heaven, they eagerly asked Jesus: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6) We can’t blame them. Young and old, we also expect our superheroes to save us from every anxiety. The plans of Jesus diverged from those of the Apostles. The life of Jesus affirms God’s love for His handiwork. His return to the Father reveals our obligation to confront the abuses of His gifts.

Peace, security, and happiness in this life are noble aspirations. Yet, violence and suffering surround us. Like the Apostles, we want our leaders to overthrow abusive authorities, keep us safe, and protect our communities from lawlessness. (We also expect a lot of free stuff supplied by taxpayers.)

The miracles of Jesus appealed to many of these sentiments. But His messianic purpose was unexpected. “He taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt. 7:29) His miracles bolstered His teaching authority. He conquered sin, suffering, and death with His Resurrection. His Ascension may seem like an unhappy departure, but His return to the Father is a glorious fulfillment and affirmation of human dignity despite its sinful history,

Jesus accepts the entirety of human history. He transforms and fulfills it. He teaches, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Mt. 5:17-18) The Law and the Prophets include God’s transformation of history, warts and all.

We receive our dignity from the hand of God, revealed in beautiful and poetic terms in the Garden of Eden. God created Adam and Eve in the image of His perfection. Created in Original Innocence, Adam and Eve did not “know good and evil.” They only knew the good. Their good acts mysteriously affirmed and expanded their perfect goodness, devoid of any contrast to evil or sinful inclinations.

Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God wasn’t rooted in vice—a bad habit. Like the choice of the fallen angels, their disobedience was a lightning-flash act of pride, an inexplicable abuse of the goodness of their freedom. After Original Sin, suffering and death became inextricable facts of our history. The poetry of the first chapter of the Bible gives way to the literal reality of evil and hardship. Original Sin stained and burdened our souls with sinful inclinations. Virtue—the perfection of our human nature—became necessary, with God’s grace, for salvation.

The historical reality of Original Sin and its effects help us understand our need for spiritual growth in virtue. A young boy slowly develops the skills to get along with his siblings and classmates. During a pickup game of basketball, a fight ensues. Authorities intervene to break up the altercations and punish the combatants. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11) Among the many paradoxes of Christianity, boys need the growing pains of conflict to grow in manly virtue. Growth in virtue comes at the price of conflict.

Mary was conceived without Original Sin, but the Blessed Mother was virtuous (as we commonly understand it after the Fall). The sins of men, like the devil’s temptations, provided moral obstacles Mary had to endure and overcome. In the face of everyday evils, Mary needed prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude in her encounter with the sinful world. Similarly, the sinless Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Lk. 2:52). Like Mary, within the context of the mystery of the Incarnation, His encounter with the fallen world impelled growth in human virtue.

We do not ascribe virtue to God (except anthropomorphically) because God is all good, the Source of all that is good. The rich young man asks Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (Mt. 19:15-17) God has no opposites. He has dominion over all creation.

Jesus, the Word made Flesh, is obedient to the Father. He is virtuous because He confronts deadly opposition. As a man, he encounters and overcomes evil. His every word is perfect in prudence. His obedience, despite the temptations, expresses His flawless justice. His endurance of insults and His Passion display His insurmountable courage.

Original Sin and its effects are historical and will remain until the end of time. The struggle against evil became a human necessity after the Fall. Jesus fulfills and transforms history by His Resurrection but does not censor it. The Ascension—His return to the Father—does not overlook our abuse of His handiwork. His Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit enable us to confront evil in the world—beginning with the evil in our hearts—and grow in virtue aided by His teaching and saving graces.

The glorious ensemble of the Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension reveals that we are not passive onlookers to the work of a Divine Superhero. Without rejecting human history, God gives us the dignity to continue our journey as His holy instruments, members of the Church Militant, and nourished by the font of the Sacraments.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) The real heroes are those growing in virtuous union with Jesus and continuing his saving work.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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