Too heroic?

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A study came out recently that said one can have too good of a role model. They did a study of people and the effects fictional super heroes have on real life responses. Apparently, having a hero who is approachable is better than having a hero who is overwhelmingly super.

Seeing perfection and power is depressing for us mere mortals. Students who thought of superman volunteered less than those who thought about any of the lesser members of the pantheon. In comparing ourselves to perfection we get to wonder what the point is in our even trying.

This is interesting not because of the various influences Marvel or DC comics might have on burgeoning philanthropists but because of how I think this is relevent to a religious conversation.

We have Jesus you see, and above him (practically if not theologically) we have God the Father with his list of various omni’s. Who can measure up? The ideal of grace became an excuse of sorts, saying that we don’t measure up and that’s just fine. Which is right in essence, but often very wrong in how it’s worked out.

You see Jesus and Paul didn’t have the idea that because the goal is difficult we are fine resting on our justified laurels. We are indeed called to make progress in this present life, to pursue holiness, to embrace eternity even if a little bit. What we miss is made up. That we are still called to pursue is a concept inherent to both testaments.

In the Church, then, we set up Jesus precisely as he didn’t set himself up. We create him unapproachable, ethereal, distant and austere. Yet, he was in fact more human than the rest of us. Everything that we do, he did, except for the sin bits. The Gospels portray him as someone everyone, in all parts of society, are comfortable with, a trait that very, very few people can pull off.

The Saints, including Mary, are put into the safe situation. We exalt them, seeking to honor them, but in fact practically do so in order to give us an excuse not to trace their steps. They were people, like us, facing the same realities of life. Yet their choices tended towards God. When ours don’t we don’t want to face the reality there could be anything different. So we separate those who do Right and give ourselves an excuse for not being what we could be.

Or, a modern trend is to break the Saints, emphasizing their weaknesses and trying to shatter the picture so their deeds were nothing more than shadows. Much scholarship has gone into doing this for Jesus. If we reject his goodness then in order to protect our own fragile psyches we have to bring him down to our level. We revel in tossing mud upon our heroes so we are not made to feel like there is anything more to this present life than what we have ourselves. It’s safe.

The fact is that there are people in history who really did pursue God, none more than Jesus himself who revealed God as a man. The fact also is the various saints were real people, who didn’t always make right decisions and took years to find their peace in God. In our setting we are called to become the same kinds of people, something we earnestly try to run away from either through rejection or theologizing.

I think this is interesting because it shows how spiritual warfare can work. We can honor someone too much, and raise someone too high, even Jesus. And, practically, that’s almost as bad as rejecting them completely. A curious though as one studies the history of the Church and society.

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