Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (c. 1423-24)
Celebrities are shallow and superheroes are not real. The saints are the real heroes.
I have met some saints. I mean real saints, not just “Mildred Horton, she’s a real saint” sort of saints. I met Mother Teresa and bumped into Pope John Paul II once in the Vatican, but I’ve met a couple of other people who I’m convinced were genuine, authentic, the real thing — saints, too. Both of them have died, and I believe they are in heaven fighting battles on earth just like the saints are supposed to.
These were living people who I met who are now saints, but I’ve met some of the other kind too — the ones who went to heaven long ago, and who you can make friends with here below. I’m thinking of Thérèse and Benedict and John Bosco and Francis de Sales. I’ve felt in touch with them. Known their wisdom and their friendship and their encouragement and their help.
In getting to know the saints it seems to me that they are the perfect antidote to the celebrity culture (or should I say cult) to which so many in our world fall prey. See, we want not just role models, but we want individuals who are greater than we are. We want superheroes. We want people who can do great things. We want people who are perfect who can be our models and our mentors.
Sad children that we are, so many of us invest in a pop star or a movie star or a politician or a priest. We want that person to epitomize all our hopes and dreams. We want to live vicariously through them. We want them to be a superhero to us and stand radiantly tall as the model for us all.
But celebrities are shallow and superheroes are not real. Meanwhile, within the economy of salvation the good God gives us exactly what we do need: ordinary people who really have become perfect.
A saint is an ordinary person who has become extraordinary. We talk about heroes, but the Church says a saint has achieved “heroic virtue.”
A saint might not wear a cape (although Ven. Fulton Sheen wore one!) but they really have assumed otherworldly powers. They have become super powers in the universe by God’s grace. More than mere celebrities, the saints have unlocked heaven and opened the door for us. By becoming all that they were made to be, they show us all that we are made to be.
Each saint is a unique and marvelous image of Christ fulfilled. “How different are all the saints!” cried St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Thérèse Martin or Gemma Galgani or Maria Goretti or Agnes or Lucy or Cecilia — little girls. Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi and Bonaventure and Bruno — scholars and monks and mendicants. Or Francis Xavier and Maximillian Kolbe and Ignatius Loyola and Isaac Jogues — missionaries and martyrs and men of steel.
These are the ones who are on our side, and next to them what is a superhero? A fiction. And what is a celebrity? A fake. The devil’s counterfeit, a leaf on the wind.
This article originally appeared April 24, 2018, at the Register.