Superheroes can be useful for catechesis on virtues, values
What do Rocket Racoon, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and following Jesus have to do with each other? These super folks have a lot of the same qualities it takes to live authentic Christianity today.
The month of May saw the release of "Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3," and June brings "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" and "The Flash" to the big screen. "So what?" you may say. "I'd rather be on the beach, in the mountains or picnicking with my loved ones." Yeah, me, too, but if you have anything to do with encouraging the faith of teens or young adults, pay attention to the superhero movies and shows. They can provide fodder for inspiring them to live lives of Christian discipleship in a world where being a faithful follower of Jesus isn't exactly a popular path.
The immense popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Comics films, and the characters that populate their stories, means they have influence in our culture.
Now think about those kids that inhabit your classroom or home. How do you nurture their faith in a way that appeals to them? Talk to them about superheroes. What makes them tick? What makes a follower of Christ tick?
I often ask confirmation candidates to list the qualities of their favorite superheroes. Not their superpowers, but rather -- as people -- what drives them to do the things they do? Why do they bother standing up to the villain, often at risk to themselves? What inside qualities enable them to do "super" things on the outside?
We make a list of superhero characteristics. It usually includes things like compassion, courage, self-sacrificing, strength, bravery, fearlessness, confidence, wanting the good of others, thinking of others before yourself, love, an outgoing spirit, etc. I ask the students, "Wouldn't it just be amazing if all of us could live out of virtues like these all the time?" Alas, we are human, often missing the mark, frequently failing, but having the nerve to get up and try again.
Therein lies the power of some of the recent superhero tales. They show people who've been gifted with special abilities but who are imperfect just like we are, making mistakes and learning from them. In "Spider-Man: Homecoming," the first of the recent Spider-Man films starring Tom Holland, Peter Parker is just learning how to be Spider-Man and shows his immaturity by making a big mess of things. When confronted by Iron Man, Peter says that he was just trying to be like his mentor. Iron Man replies, "I wanted you to be better."
In the television series "Supergirl," Kara needed to learn what being Supergirl meant for her as a person. Her friend, James Olsen, while sharing his amazement at Kara's powers, says, "You leap into the sky headfirst into danger. You don't seem scared about falling," to which she replies, "What's so bad about falling?"
Yet, these imperfect heroes continue to do marvelous things. In "Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3," Star-Lord, although going through a period of depression over Gamora's demise, puts his grief aside to help save the life of his friend and fellow Guardian, Rocket Racoon.
The current polarization in society -- present and growing -- makes it tough for all of us, but especially the young, to live the faith openly and fearlessly. It might feel to them like it takes superhuman strength to stand up against the "villains" who come in the form of bullies or those who disrespect others through their entitled attitudes or offensive language or whatever else the devil, the ultimate villain, stirs up in the hearts of people. The characteristics of a follower of Christ, though, actually look a lot like what we admire in superheroes: compassion, kindness, courage, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, looking out for the "little guy" (those whom Scripture calls the widows and orphans) and putting the good of others before our own desires.
If the characteristics of the superheroes we admire can help us live more courageously as disciples of our Lord, then let's pray for inner strength and try our best to be super men and women, super girls and boys, who defend what is good and true, even if it's unpopular or scary.