In the movie Batman Begins, young Bruce Wayne falls into a well at Wayne Manor while playing with his friend Rachel Dawes. He fractures his leg and is terrified when a swarm of bats attack him from out of the darkness of the surrounding caves.
After Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, rescues Bruce from the well, he tells Bruce the bats attacked him because they were afraid of him.
“Afraid of me?”, asked Bruce.
“All creatures feel fear.”
“Even the scary ones?”
“Especially the scary ones,” replied Thomas.
Thomas’ words foreshadow not only that fear can be used against the criminals who terrorize the citizens of Gotham, but also that Batman, who will instill fear in those same criminals, will experience his own fear notwithstanding his courage and willingness to fight evil.
Shortly after this, Bruce’s parents are murdered during a robbery. His father’s last words are, “Bruce, it’s okay. Don’t be afraid.” Did Thomas really expect his young son, alone in a dark alley in the midst of a lawless city, to simply steel his jaw and move on? Hadn’t Thomas told Bruce a few minutes earlier in the movie that all creatures feel fear? So what did Thomas mean? With his last few words, he was telling Bruce, “Don’t allow this to turn you into a bitter man. Don’t allow this to stop you from growing into the person you are meant to be. Use it. As bad as this is, it’s going to be okay.”
In the parable of the ten gold coins in Luke 19:11-27 (which is similar to the parable of the five talents in Matthew 25:14-30) one of the king’s servants fails to invest the gold coin given to him because he is afraid. Upon learning this, the king curses the servant and takes the gold coin away from him, leaving him with nothing. In the Gospels, Jesus explicitly mentions fear. He told his disciples “have no fear” and “do not be afraid.” But fear isn’t something that we can simply turn off or wish away. Fear is part of the human experience. So, what does Jesus expect of us?
Bruce Wayne eventually returns to the caves beneath Wayne Manor as an adult. When the bats swarm around him again, he stands peacefully in their midst, seeming to commune with them. Was he afraid? Probably a little, but he faced his fears, signified by the bats, and transcended them, merging the object of his fears with himself–and Batman was born.
On January 17th, we celebrate the feast of St Anthony. Not only did he battle Satan many times during his life, even suffering physical injuries from these encounters, but, like Bruce Wayne had done in the caves, St Anthony purposely went to dark and frightful places to combat the Devil. St Anthony went to live for a time in the tombs and also inside an abandoned fort seeking to battle Satan. I doubt he was always totally without fear, especially when he was alone in those dark and creepy places, but he faced the enemy and transcended whatever fears he had which, in the end, caused Satan to flee from him.
The parable of the ten gold coins and Bruce Wayne’s story are a warning about the potentially paralyzing and corrupting effect fear can have on us. God doesn’t expect us to be robotically fearless as if we can turn the fear switch off whenever we want. Like Thomas Wayne said, all creatures feel fear. However, we can’t allow fear to paralyze or corrupt us, preventing us from growing into the saints God intends for us to be. We must face our fears and transcend them.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples hid “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19). It was only after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they were able to transcend their fears and begin their apostolic mission. You may not completely conquer your fears during your lifetime. Indeed, the fortitude of the likes of the martyrs is a special grace which isn’t granted to all, but if you ask for the Holy Spirit’s help, you can transcend your fears so that they don’t stand in the way of God making you the saint he wants you to be. And then, those things you fear the most will flee from you.
Mt 10:26, 28, 31, 14:27, 28:10; Mk 4:40, 5:36, 6:50, Lk 5:10, 8:50, 12:4-5, 12:7, 12:32; Jn 6:20, 12:15, 14:27.
Batman Begins was released on June 15, 2005 and was directed by Christopher Nolan.
The Life of Anthony, St Athanasius of Alexandria.
Image from Warner Bros.