October 11, 2021
Filed In: Church and Culture
Hero is a common word these days. Healthcare workers are heroes for putting themselves and their families at risk to provide care for the sick. Grocery workers are heroes for taking similar risks and keeping us fed. The list goes on and on.
It’s hard for me to say it, but like so much of our language today, I think we overdid it. It’s not my intention to downplay those actions. Taking those risks are part of the job. Healthcare workers put themselves at risk of infection, injury, and lawsuit to help their patients on every shift. It’s what they do. The risk of getting sick is lower today, but Walmart team members still go to work and do my shopping for me. I’m grateful for their actions. I think what we saw was not strictly heroism, but altruism. In the face of adversity, the human spirit triumphed.
In the revisionist trope of our times, we set a very high bar for our heroes. We don’t just want them to be heroic, we demand that they be perfect. When we discover that these heroes are human, with their flaws and imperfections, we let our judgmental selves reduce and demean them.
Take today, Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus made an incredible choice. When he set sail, there were probably a good number of people on those docks, never expecting to hear from him again. He sailed anyway. Columbus Day is an opportunity to reflect on the bold spirit of adventure that lives so deep within us.
He was not perfect. In his zeal to explore and spread his faith, he hurt people. He made many mistakes in his life, but his explorations were also pivotal to human progress. He set in motion the process that ultimately yielded the greatest force for good in the history of mankind, the United States of America. Yet, some cannot bring themselves to forgive a man for acting in a way consistent with the larger society 500 years ago. Thus, he must be maligned, defamed, torn down, and erased from history.
The only perfect saint is Mary. Every other saint fought and contended with their imperfections and, in the end, won. St. Peter denied knowing Jesus, St. Paul tried to snuff out the early Church, and St. Augustine was a bit loose. These men are heroes for their contribution to human knowledge, but they were also flawed people. They were just like you and me.
Heroes inspire us to live our lives more fully, but expecting them to be perfect is a fool’s errand. Instead, we should accept them for the good that they have done and forgive them for the mistakes that they have made. We should hope that others treat us with the same kindness.