Homily for Jan. 30, Sunday of the IV Week in Ordinary Time
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According to the Internet pseudo-encyclopedia known as Wikipedia, the American film industry has produced more than 110 movies about superheroes in the past 60 years. The way the superheroes are presented has changed somewhat from generation to generation; nowadays it seems that the movies like to focus as much on the personal problems and weaknesses of the heroes as much as on their extraordinary abilities with which they fight crime and save the lives of the innocent and downtrodden.
I think this cultural obsession with superheroes as well as the way they are presented today reveals something important about human nature. In one way or another, we’d pretty much all like to be strong, invulnerable, good-looking, able to rely on extraordinary powers and skills to overcome obstacles, and do it all without messing up our hair our wrinkling our clothes too much. While we realize that we fall short of the ideal, we’d like to be able to control our own lives and protect the ones we love, relying on our own resources.
This is a natural impulse, and as long as it is well directed, it’s good. However, it can go terribly wrong. If we let this desire to “be more than we are” become an obsession, we can break ethical boundaries in an attempt to reach the goal at any cost. Just think of medical research that looks for cures for some people by killing others – like embryonic stem cell research. That is the kind of terrible error described in Genesis when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command, in order to make themselves like gods.
We should also beware of the opposite extreme, of being overwhelmed and discouraged by our weakness and the obstacles we face, and falling into despair.
The readings today offer us a really important message: we are not superheroes, and God does not expect us to be. He offers us His love, His strength, and His salvation. In return, He wants us to try to be honest, humble, merciful, just, compassionate, and pure of heart. He wants us to seek to be peacemakers, and to be willing to suffer for His sake.
Sometimes He also gives us the resources and the opportunities for our work to be blessed with success in tangible ways which are recognized by those around us, but that’s not essential. Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are the successful, blessed are the strong, blessed are the independent, blessed are those who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and defeat ninja hoards with their bare hands.” Those people can be blessed too – as long as they recognize that they have received their talents and opportunities from God, and do not become proud or domineering.
God knows our hidden weaknesses and loves us all the more when we acknowledge our needs, trust Him, and rely on His strength to supplement and energize the gifts He has built into our nature. The only true superhero is Jesus Christ, Who, in the words of St Paul which we heard today, “became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption”. If we listen to His words and do our best to follow the path He taught us, we will truly be blessed, “so that, as it is written, ‘Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.’”