What is a hero or a superhero? A broad definition is someone who manifests a superability or superpower, generally acts heroically, and is brave and self-sacrificing. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hero as ‘a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.’ Examples of superheroes in the last 80 years would include both the heroes in the DC and Marvel comics such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider-man. If we were to look for heroes in our Catholic tradition, we could look to our saints. They would be people like St Theresa of Calcutta, St Mary Mackillop, Pope John Paul II and others from centuries past.
Many of the creators of superheroes in the comics were from Jewish families and, as some have argued, infused their characters with Jewish values. Jack Kirby (born as Jacob Kurtzberg), who has been hailed as the ‘King of Comics’ and creator of many of the superheroes, once said that ‘Underneath all the sophistication of modern comics, all the twists and psychological drama, good triumphs over evil. Those are the things I learned from my parents and from the Bible. It’s part of my Jewish heritage.’ The Golden Age of comics emerged out of the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler. From 1940 to 1945 many young Jewish artists around New York began to create superheroes in the midst of social fragmentation and uncertainty. Mythical ties were made implicit: Superman was like Moses, saved from destruction as an infant and sent off to liberate a people. If as Christians, we see Jesus as the new Moses sent to liberate the people then the connections become quite clear. Jesus is our ultimate superhero!
Many young people who shun traditional expressions of faith are attracted to religious messages and symbols, most often in popular culture. These seem to be most overt in the superhero figures who are moving from comic books to movies and TV. Similarly to comic book superheroes, most of the heroes in the Church would have gone through great adversity. And just as superheroes never give up hope, our saints were steadfast in their faith, and their love of God and neighbour. As Christians, we believe that it’s not just in the pages of a comic book or on the big screen that good will always triumph over evil. It's our faith.
Setting The Scene
For a centrepiece, place a Bible or a lighted candle on a central table. Around the centrepiece, leaders could display images and names of important Catholic saints and figures and/or Australian heroes, for instance, Weary Dunlop and Fred Hollows.
Leaders should also have available slips of paper, one for each participant, on which one of these four words is written: ‘AWARENESS’, ‘COURAGE’, ‘ STRENGTH’, ‘LOVE’. Place these slips in a basket on your table.
On large pieces of paper, younger students could design symbols for a ‘Jesus the Superhero!’ T-Shirt. These could be displayed around the room.
Items and Support needed:
1. Bible and/or lighted candle for centrepiece
2. Images or names of Catholic saints and important figures or Australian heroes
3. Slips of paper with one of the following words written on each of them: ‘AWARENESS’, ‘COURAGE’, ‘ STRENGTH’, ‘LOVE’
5. Children’s drawings of T-shirt designs
6. Eight students to read and perform tasks
Leader: Let us focus on the need for heroes and thank God for the heroes who walk among us each day. For those in our families who give us wonderful examples of how to live, those who teach, mentor, coach and guide us into becoming our best selves.
All: God, we thank you for giving us models to follow.
Leader: Do you agree that we all need people to inspire us? Do you believe as many do that it is critical that we have genuine heroes to guide us to develop what is best in ourselves? Like a lighthouse that guides ships through turbulent seas, role models offer direction and guidance to our personal ships trying to navigate through the high seas and hurricanes of life. Scripture is a storehouse of heroes worthy of our study and imitation—Moses, David, Susanna and Deborah and of course the superhero of the Gospels, Jesus.
Reader 1: In this account of the centurion’s servant, Jesus holds up the faith of the centurion as a worthy model for all to follow.
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant, Luke 7:1-10
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Reader 2: In the account of the widow’s mite, Jesus extols the generosity of the widow as a model worthy of our imitation.
The widow's offering, Mark 12:42-44
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
Reader 3: When he places a child on his knee, Jesus shows his followers that there is a real greatness in being unassuming and childlike.
True Greatness; Luke 9:46-48
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’
The Gospel of the Lord.
All: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.
Reflection on readings
Leader: You will notice that Jesus didn’t pick extraordinary people who could be heroes for us. He picked the ordinary: a Roman centurion, a widow and a child. It wasn’t their titles, their power or wealth that made these people worthy of Jesus' recognition. It was the quality of their characters, the depths of their soul and the fact that they were aware, had courage, strength and love to share.
We find these four qualities of awareness, courage, strength and love in our newest saint, St Theresa of Calcutta, who was an ordinary, simple girl born in Skopje, Macedonia from Albanian parents. She joined the Sisters of Loreto at 18 and was sent to Calcutta to work. After some years she had what she described as ‘a call within a call’ and said, ‘I was to serve through the poorest of His poor’. She then formed the Missionaries of Charity which now has 750 shelters and homes across the world. Just like the heroes we meet in the Gospels, St Theresa of Calcutta had the awareness to hear God's call, the courage to answer it, the strength to fulfill it and the love to impact others - even the world.
One student picks up the basket from the table and invites all other students to come forward. Each student should take one of the papers from the basket and then spend a few moments prayerfully reflecting on the word written on it. Allow at least 2 minutes for this.
Reader 4: God of Awareness, teach us what it means to be alert, and open to the world around us. Let us never forget the needs of others.
Reader 5: God of Courage, forgive us for the times we have been faithless and afraid. Renew us and make us courageous and outspoken when we see the wrongs in our society.
Reader 6: God of strength, share this great gift with us, for we are so often weak. Make our faith strong and true that we might proclaim it to the world.
Reader 7: God of love, pour your abundant love into us that we might welcome and embrace all of your children as you welcome and embrace us.
All: Bless us in every age with women and men who can inspire us to do great things for you. Help us to find role models who exemplify what is the best in being human and help us to follow their example. Teach us to be thankful for those who live so passionately and justly that they are a light for us on our way to you. We pray this in the name of Jesus our superhero.
Leaders could conclude the liturgy with the song ‘Superheroes’ by The Script.
If this liturgy is used with younger children you could use ‘Jesus my Superhero’ by Hillsong Kids.
Photo: Wesley Fryer; flickr's creativecommons license