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What is the hallmark of a hero?
A veteran, returning from war, walked down the street of his hometown. His left arm moved with him as he walked, but his right sleeve was empty and fastened to his shoulder with a pin. A tactless neighbor saw him and said, “I see you lost your arm.” The veteran humbly replied, “I did not lose it, I gave it.”
True heroes are those who willingly give up something they need or love for someone or something greater than themselves. Today’s Scripture Readings give us three examples of such heroes. The 1st Reading from the Book of Genesis recounts the dramatic and moving story of Abraham’s willingness to give his son Isaac back to God. As you know, Abraham and Sara waited for years for God to fulfill His promise of an heir. Finally, they received Isaac; but then God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Without protest but with trust in whatever God would ask of him, Abraham was willing to give up Isaac. At the moment when Abraham was ready to execute his son, God sent an angel to stop the sacrifice. The messenger revealed this to have been a test to see Abraham’s devotion to His will. Spiritual heroes are willing, without question or doubt, to give the Father anything He asks for.
St. Paul, in the 2nd Reading, speaks of the heroic love of God for us. As is often said today, “a hero is one who runs to the battle, a coward is one who runs away.” The Father loves His Son but sends Him to do battle against the evils of sin and death. So it is that Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear at Christmas Midnight Mass. “For a Child is born to us; a Son is given to us….They name Him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is our God-Hero who leaves behind the security and glory of heaven in order to make it possible, by His Death and Resurrection, for each one of us to return with Him home to heaven. He gives His life that we might find ours.
In this heroic self-sacrifice Jesus, as the Gospel indicates, brings to completion and fulfills the covenant the Father made with the People of Israel. He appears in transfigured glory with Moses (God’s lawgiver) and Elijah (God’s great prophet) to symbolize the transition to the “the new and eternal covenant” between God and mankind. The raising of Jesus from the dead to a new life in glory confirms everything that Jesus said and did in His life on earth. Jesus predicts this transition to glory in the Transfiguration, but tells the Apostles “not to tell anyone what they had seen, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
On this Second Sunday in Lent, the Lord asks us to consider whether or not we are heroes or at least are willing to do heroic things. Basically this means putting our lives on the line for others. We may not have to do so like the football coach who took a bullet to save the lives of others at the high school in Parkland, but God asks us to live as persons of heroic virtue throughout our lives. The first question that is asked about anyone proposed for canonization as a saint is this: “Was he or she a person of heroic virtue?”
Caring for a relative or friend till the end of their lives calls for heroic virtue. Allowing a child to be born who will have permanent disabilities entails a life of self-sacrifice. Staying faithful to a loved one who causes you nothing but pain and sorrow requires the forgetfulness of self that is the stuff of heroes. If we imitate the faithfulness of Abraham and the absolute love of Jesus, we will be heroes in God’s eyes. And then, He will grant us what Jesus, the promised God-Hero received—new life with the Father forever in Heaven.