Is the Church like Gotham City, diseased and dysfunctional and in need of purification from within, or is the Church like Metropolis, virtuous and whole and in need of protection from outside threats? Does Christ raise different saints within the Church at different times and if so what can we learn about the talents and virtues of Batman and Superman as we make our own journey as the pilgrim People of God?
A city set on a hill
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus tells his disciples “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” These words were spoken during the Sermon on the Mount after Jesus taught the Beatitudes and told his disciples they are the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:1-13).
When Jesus talks about the light of the world or the city on a hill, he means the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, the New Jerusalem. Prior to Christ, God’s people focused on sacrificial worship at the Jerusalem Temple, a physical place. Following Christ’s life, passion and resurrection, the Church became the focus, with the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith (CCC 1324).
The Church is not a physical place, though we may worship God in buildings made of stone and wood that we call “churches.” The Church is us, God’s people (CCC 781-801). In the Jerusalem Temple, God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the building’s inner sanctuary. Now, through baptism, God dwells in each of us, individual temples of the Holy Spirit (John 20:19-21; CCC 1265).
Gotham City: Plagued by internal disease
Gotham City is infested with crime, filth and vice. The city’s criminals prey upon the helpless and the politicians and police are corrupt. Gotham is diseased, but the city is not all bad. Batman, Commissioner Gordon and their allies believe that the good people of Gotham are worth fighting for. They believe that they can make a difference, so they remain committed to justice even though Gotham seems beyond salvation at times. Is the Church dysfunctional and diseased from within? Yes. Always (Matthew 13:24-30; CCC 827).
Metropolis: Assailed by exterior enemies
Metropolis is handsome, functional and populated by good citizens. Though Lex Luthor, based at LexCorp in Metropolis, is Superman’s greatest enemy, some of the most powerful villains who have threatened Metropolis came from outside the city. General Zod, Superman’s enemy in the 1980 film Superman II and also in the more recent Man of Steel, is from Superman’s home planet, Krypton.
In Superman II, Zod wants to take over Earth and enslave humanity to serve him. In Man of Steel, Zod wants to terraform Earth to create a new Krypton and kill all human beings in the process. While Batman is focused on cleaning up Gotham from within, Superman has fought hard battles to keep Metropolis safe from outside forces. Is the Church good and in need of protection from outside threats? Yes. Always (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12; CCC 823).
Human and supernatural gifts
By saying his disciples are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus is telling us we are his saints, his heroes! St Paul says we are called to use our unique gifts in service to the Church.
“For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them …” (Romans 12:3-6).
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
Batman is a skilled martial artist and gadget nerd who is extremely intelligent and tough as nails. He has no “superpowers” per se. His talents are purely human in nature, developed through disciplined training and focused study. Superman, on the other hand, possesses a number of innate superpowers that he was born with. Unlike Batman, who Bruce Wayne has spent great resources creating, Superman has done nothing to earn the powers of flight, heat vision, invulnerability, amazing strength, etc. His superpowers are simply part of his nature.
Each of us, like Batman, are given human talents which are our responsibility to hone and develop. Just as well, like Superman, each of us are given supernatural graces (seen most clearly in the martyrs) in times of need that we can do nothing to earn. Both types of gifts, human and supernatural, are made possible by God’s grace. We are expected to use these gifts, especially when we are called by the Holy Spirit, in service to the Church for the glory of God and to help one other.
The virtues that drive us
“[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
The Catechism says virtues are a disposition to do what is good (CCC 1803). There are human virtues that can be acquired through our own effort and strengthened by grace and there are theological virtues that can only be attained through God’s grace (CCC 1804, 1812). Growing in virtue, especially Charity (Love), is necessary for our Christian journey (Mark 12:30-31). As we grow, we learn that some of our virtues are more dominant than others and that while we might excel in one or more virtues, we may need to work a lot on several others. The same is true for our superheroes which is one of the reasons why we love them so much.
Batman’s dominant human virtue is Justice. “Justice toward men to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good” (CCC 1807). Justice is what drives Batman to jump into hand to hand combat with a crowd of violent thugs or stand like an immovable statute in the face of entrenched organized criminals and corrupt politicians.
Superman’s dominant human virtue is Temperance. “Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable” (CCC 1809). Superman doesn’t relish worldly pleasures and rarely loses his cool. He is almost always calm and he never abuses his powers.
Does the city set on a hill need Batman or Superman?
The Church, a city set on a hill, needs both Batmen(women) and Supermen(women). Saints! That doesn’t mean we should become masked vigilantes or run around town wearing a cape. As members of the Body of Christ we should ask the Holy Spirit to help us discover and develop our unique human talents and also to remain open to receiving God’s supernatural graces through regular reception of the Sacraments and constant prayer. We should also work to develop in virtue, especially the Cardinal Virtues so that we may put our entire being, our very lives, to service for the Church when Christ calls us.
We trust in God’s Divine Providence to raise the saints we need in the Church today, but it is up to each of us individually to heed the call when a distress signal appears in the clouds over the city or when, through the noisiness of life, we notice the barely perceptible cry for help from one of our brothers or sisters in Christ.
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