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Heroes and saints

December 8, 2016

HEROES need not be saints, but saints are always heroes in the sense that whatever their vocation and mission, they always live them with heroicity even if their heroic lives may not be publicly known in some political, social, historical or cultural terms.

Saints can even live their heroicity hidden from the public eye, and often they live it by going against the current obtaining in a certain society. They can be unpopular, in fact, as St. Paul once said: “We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world...” (1 Cor 4,13)

Heroes obviously can be saints too, as long as they live their vocation and mission in strict and heroic obedience to God's will and ways. They definitely have done some acts that we consider as heroic. They serve a certain purpose in the world.

But what we usually consider heroes are defined more in political, social, historical and cultural terms, and need not accord with the spiritual and supernatural criteria of sainthood.

In fact, there are many heroes now who can hardly qualify as saints, precisely because their heroism may go against spiritual and supernatural standards. Heroes work for some worldly values like nationalism, save-and-rescue operations, efficiency and effectiveness, etc. Saints work only for the fidelity to God's will.

While heroes are always involved in some extraordinary events, saints need not get involved in those kind of events. Most of them become saints simply doing very ordinary things but doing them extraordinarily well, that is, with great love of God and of others, with extreme fidelity to their vocation and mission.

Most saints live their heroic lives in secret. They don't show off their goodness, imitating Christ who said: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you...And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men...” (Mt 6,6&16)

Saints live their heroic lives consistently, in season and out of season, when times are favorable and when they are not. They hardly are influenced by the opinions of people. They can go against the general trends, if need be. Theirs is in strict obedience and fidelity to God's will.

The distinction between heroes and saints is crucial because we need to realize that we have to aim more at becoming saints than at becoming heroes. If we happen to end up both saints and heroes, then that's good. It's quite a privilege. But if given a choice, we have to opt for sainthood rather than for being a hero.

What is truly important is that we are with God rather than with our own selves. We have to aim at heaven rather than some earthly advantage. “What does it profit a man,” Christ says, “to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.” (Mk 8,36)

This does not mean that we have to belittle the value of the world. Not at all. The world and the things in it, our temporal affairs, are important and even indispensable in the pursuit of sanctity. But the world and things in it are simply means. They are never the end.

Thus, the call to holiness and sanctity is universal. It's meant for everyone, while the call to be heroes is quite selective. Not everyone can be heroes, but everyone is expected to be a saint. The occasions to become saints are always available, while those to become heroes are few and far between.

That is why even with his apostles, Christ would just choose practically anyone at random, including the one who would betray him later. And the reason is simply because all of us come from God and belong to him.

To become a saint is not so much a matter of the kind of skill, talent, position, etc. that one has. It's simply a matter of a total self-giving to God and to others, irrespective of the conditions and circumstances one may be in.

In this regard, we have to develop the appropriate passion. That's simply because to become a saint just cannot happen without fully involving all our faculties, including our passions. Let's remember what Christ told us about the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22,37)

To become a saint is to achieve the fullness of our humanity. Our fullness is not to become a hero simply.