Friday, April 16, 2010

Heroes and Saints

A year before I returned to the Catholic Church, I became interested in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. A professor recommended I read "God's Fool" by Julien Green to understand the impact and gravity of what went on with Francis in his life. Shane Claiborne's comment about the taming of the saints and their voice through garden statues etc., is somewhat relevant in expressing the contrast between how these saints are portrayed in the tradition of the church and the reality of their lives. However, I do not agree that statues and people naming themselves after these saints is a light matter and part of a problem the church must solve. On the contrary, the traditions of veneration tell us to pay attention; their importance is solidified in these practices of the church. But what interested me particularly about Francis was his obsession with knights and chivalry early in his life before the conversion that defined him as a saint. Rising from his middle class status, he bought a suit of armor and went to war against a neighboring city, which ultimately led to his imprisonment for over a year and his return to Assisi. However, the damage was done, and his road to God began. It's the idea of the heroic that interested me, though, and it was one he never fully escaped. He gave names to virtues and called them "Lady." Lady Poverty, Lady Chastity.

Sometime this summer, Robin Hood will return to film with Russel Crowe as his interpreter, and from the trailers it will be an angry, vengeful Robin that never smiles and would serve well the the Spartans depicted in "300." Aside from the values embraced and projected onto Robin in this movie, there's something they omitted that makes the story of Robin Hood incomplete. For the sake of realism, Robin is angry, dirty, blood drips from his forehead as he draws his bow, and a vital part of the human experience and the legend of Robin Hood is neglected- his merriment. This part of his character is so central that the title used in telling his story often involves the word "merry." Find the old books, older than the movies, and you'll see titles like "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood," and these aren't only for children. To be merry is a childlike thing, but not something reserved for children. They're only better at it than adults. A hero that can be merry, all the while fighting tyrannous and illegitimate kings, is far more dangerous than a hero who is unable to get past his anger and need for revenge.

Francis loved heroes and wanted to be one. I share that desire. The film industry would be crippled beyond healing if all of humanity woke tomorrow and lost their love for heroes and adventure. There is something true about them humans are drawn to. They're exceptional figures in history that provide us with scripts to act on in the smallest decisions. The Russell Crowe Robin Hood is real in the sense that he matches what the cynical would take as a hero, Francis and possibly the Robin Hood of legend would not. To be fully human is not an apology or an excuse to make mistakes. It is to rise toward God until we touch the created ceiling of our existence, covered in the most beautiful art, and there we meet God who takes us further into the divine. Chesterton wrote "Orthodoxy" as an apologetic for becoming Catholic. At the end of the book (not to spoil it for those who haven't read it) he says the one thing we'll be surprised by in heaven when we meet Christ Himself is his mirth. To be a saint is to not only express humanity in its fullness, but to reveal the divine; all saints are so because of God's power. And when a saint exists, all good things- from suffering for good to a sense of humor- are involved.

It smacks of geekdom to talk of honor, which I'll gladly accept. It also carries with it a goodness lost in recent times. And by saying there are honorable things is to say that there are dishonorable things- acts of ill repute. Yes, there is such a thing as a dishonorable person in our time, even if he or she isn't explicitly called such. To find a quick example, look to any of Kanye West's public embarrassment.

This is not a blog about heroes or saints. It is not one about my cats, garden, or what I cook. It is a comment on what I see as good, just, true, and worth writing about. I can't find the words to be more specific.


DDJ said...

I feel the timing of God is impeccable. Although not directly related to what you were saying, I was thinking today of how much the news we here, both in terms of media and gossip, is of what is wrong with this world. Often times I fall under the thinking that this world is going to "hell in a handbasket" and how there is so much moral degradation in this world. Yet, I feel and see how much love there really is and the need for us to share the love we experience. I thank you for starting this blog and pray that the good news spreads like wildfire.

DDJ said...

I had posted a comment, but I'm not sure where it is, but I just wanted to say, awesome job for doing this. A lot of times it is easy for me to get caught up in what is wrong with this world and rarely do I see avenues for the spreading of "good news." I find hope in knowing people are ready to speak about the good things, and there are many, in this life. Thank you