What is heroism?

"I am an errant knight and I have a spear to defend the people…,” said a 3-year-old boy, who subsequently begins to cry inconsolably when told a story where the little pig was roasted and eaten. “You cannot kill the little pigs. They are good,” he said. Despite his tender feelings, in his imagination, Álvaro is a hero. And surely in his imagination he may well be, because the definition of heroism is the ability to transform compassion into heroic action. Álvaro still can’t do this, of course, but he has the components.

Heroes… Superman, Batman, Zorro, Don Quijote… all those fictional characters, who entertain with their adventures and defend truth, justice, rights, and honor. But who are really our heroes? Or better yet, what is heroism?

According to the dictionaries, heroism is an attitude of extraordinary generosity, which places the good and well-being of others before one’s own. It has nothing to do with extraordinary or amazing powers. Perhaps Álvaro was right in his defense of people and crying for the little pigs… an extraordinary generosity.

I think about Antonio’s mother, for example. Antonio is confined to a wheelchair, because he was shot in the spine while hanging out with gangs. The young man joined a gang, because he didn’t seem to find at home the attention, respect, and care he desired. When he ended up paralyzed in the hospital, Antonio felt depressed. His mother spent long nights watching over him and began reading him the Bible. At the time, Antonio was not a believer, yet he listened to the words his mother read to him and, gradually he began getting closer to God. It was his mother’s heroism that saved Antonio, who now gives testimony of his faith and is part of a church youth group.

Another definition presents heroes as those who know how to encounter situations requiring strength, endurance, or unusual courage. Heroes and heroines can be people who are very close to us, live situations of great pain and difficulty, and know how to maintain their integrity.

I think of Shamina, a young lady born with spina bifida and who, at times, has been completely paralyzed and in a great deal of pain. With the help and support of her mother, who had to deal with doctors that had given up and would say the girl would never walk, Shamina enrolled in college, and is studying, putting in all her efforts, and not allowing herself to be conquered by despair or the lack of hope.

Heroes many times can be confused with a star. It’s an easy temptation, but no matter how wonderful entertainers are, they are not heroes simply because they are famous. What defines them as heroes is doing something for someone else, surrendering with everything they are and with all their talent. The late renowned tennis player, Arthur Ashe said, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” According to this definition, we can find true heroes; very real heroes close to us. It may be our grandmother, mother, neighbor, or godparent. Perhaps our own parents, who are crossing the desert and taking enormous risks for our future.

A Christian hero is a saint

There are saints who don’t make much noise, like Alfonso, the doorman of a monastery, who dedicated his entire life to opening the door so others could find God, or St. Teresa of Child Jesús, who died very young, and always lived in a cloistered convent. Some did extraordinary things for their people and gave their life for the faith. They are great people like St. Francis Xavier, a great evangelizer, and St. Paul, who was in love with Christ. This is not so much about the noise as the intention of love and passionate service to Christ and others. The saint does not have to be noisy, but rooted in his identity is the impulse to serve others at any price. A saint is not rare or extraordinary, but a person called by God to follow with generosity, courage, compassion, endurance, and strength. This could well be you.

Photos: Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, San Antonio, Texas
Jesus and Mary's Group, Clareteen, and Grupo Génesis



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