Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure
And it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life
- “I need a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler
We have become a culture of the anti-hero. Three of the top five grossing movies so far this year are: Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs Superman, and Deadpool. These movies present traditional heroes at war with each other or a lead anti-hero character who has no good moral character of his own. As Fr. Longnecker over on Patheos has so eloquently put it, our presidential choices are between “a corrupt, scheming, immoral, venal, arrogant, greedy and ignorant Republican or a corrupt, scheming, immoral, venal, arrogant and ignorant Democrat.” We have an entire multi-million dollar celebrity media enterprise that on one hand promotes morally questionable pop stars while gleefully awaiting and publicizing the moral failures of others. Meanwhile even our athletic heroes have tarnished their legacies through scandals.
As our culture continues to detach itself from moral sanity I think this cult of the anti-hero will continue to grow. There’s something about the classical hero—a strong, confident, morally straight leader—that makes our current culture uncomfortable. If we hold up such characters as exemplars then we must admit that our own priorities as a culture and nation have gone askew. This is why we must now attack the hero. Marvel Comics recently announced a new line of Captain America comics that reveal that he has secretly been a covert agent for the Nazi Hydra organization all along. Groups of fans have started online movements to make Captain America gay or Elsa a lesbian queen in the upcoming sequel to Frozen. Like the primitive pagan cultures of antiquity we are fashioning gods in our image, that affirm our hedonistic desires, and that do not challenge us to a higher, more difficult way of self-denial or sacrifice.
In a 2009 letter to all the bishops of the world, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses "to the end" – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.” We are certainly a culture that has lost its bearings. Fortunately, in diagnosing the problem, Benedict also provides the cure: Christians making Jesus Christ present in the world.
This isn’t an easy answer, and it will require much of us who are called by His name. We must live lives that match our words. We must live heroically virtuous lives of holiness that will draw people into encountering Jesus in and through us. In short, we need to be saints. The world needs us to be saints. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II in announcing the 2005 World Youth Day, "the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity.”