I have always been fascinated by the fact that today’s postmodern culture, with its insistence on value neutral values, is, infact, greatly craving for God. The more the craze for the material the more the spiritual is pining to come into our midst to restore us once again.
Pope Francis has surely been the pontiff who really supported the inculturation of the Gospel in today’s pluralistic and, many times, confused society. After all inculturation is the way not simply to do theology but to be inspired and to act pastorally too. The Holy Father was clear about this ecclesiological and pastoral stance when he said in his powerful passage of his Apostolic Exhortation which precisely deals with the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium: “We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous.” Then he continued explaining: “While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal” (no.117).
The Christian message has to be necessarily incarnational, not simply in theory but most of all in practice. Hence, let us be bold enough, as Church, to let popular culture speak to us. After all God’s Spirit is not monocultural and imprisoned within a culture. Lest we be tempted to think so the Bible immediately comes to our aid to correct us, at least by two very telling quotes. The first one comes from the very first book of the Bible, the Genesis: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). Whilst the second one comes from Jesus’ mouth when he himself says to Nicodimus in John’s Gospel: The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).
Recently, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart through one of the most beautiful songs ever written by the American songwriter Mariah Carey, Hero. Although it was released in 1993 its message is as fresh as a daisy. A quick glance at its You Tube following swiftly informs me that it reached some 264,728,614 views! What this huge number of You Tube viewers of the song Hero is personally telling me is that they feel that they need a hero in their life. Let us face it: under a hero’s wings one feels safe up to the point of letting go of everything and just cast away the fears that won’t let him and her evolve as he and she would like to. Having a hero in your life is tantamount to live securely. Having said that, the million-dollar question is: Who is this hero? Is this hero my friends? The Bible is very cautious on this when it tells us in the book of Jeremiah: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm (Jer 17:5). Can my hero be my riches? Jesus’ warning about the man who said to his soul: Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:19) is really serious: Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? (Luke 12:20).
Difficult as it may look and feel, we are not the yardstick of our own happiness. The real empowerment we all need to be happy is not the result of our tailor-made making. Mariah Carey’s song evidently speaks about a hero that is already there, within me and you. This hero, by Himself, is the truth. No matter if I accept Him or not. It is obvious that I harbour dreams and try my best to see them fulfilled to the extent of not permitting anyone to tear them away. However, by myself I cannot do this. I need a hero to help me guard those dreams and let them evolve by putting at the side any fears that may cripple them.
Thus, if a hero is a person who is brave, good, and possesses all those good qualities or skills at their best, who can that person be if not God? Is it not God the Father who sent his Son to save us instead of rightly condeming us as we certainly merited (see John 3:17)? Is it not Him who permits his sun rise on the evil and good alike while sending his rain on both the just and unjust? (see Matt 5:43-45)? Is it not He who teaches us, through Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son and Our Elder Brother, to forgive our enemies (see Luke 23:34)? Let us never forget that this Hero, as a true hero would, speaks by His actions first. And when those actions are spoken with utmost love then what he tells us is heroic, simply because he did it through his acts in the first place!
How heroic then for God, in Jesus Christ, to give us the following teaching: And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mark 11:25). And, through his great apostle Paul, the Lord keeps hammering on the herioc virtue of forgiveness: Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17-21).
This beautiful song Hero by Mariah Carey, makes a strong appeal to you and me, its attentive listeners: “Look inside you and be strong.” The double insistence of this verse actually shows the importance as well as the urgency to enter into ourselves and meet Our real Hero, God, precisely there! It seems that some sixteen centuries ago St Augustine must have heard this invitation and, bravely, like the Hero he entrusted his life to, entered himself to find the Lord! How beautiful Augustine expressed this enermous discovery of finding His real Hero, God, in himself. In his Confessions, this great Latin Church Father says: “You were more inward to me than my most inward part and higher than my highest” (Confessions 3.6.11), the Latin poetic rendition of this foundational statement is the subsequent: interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.
For Augustine God is his Hero because He is more intimate to him than he is or can ever be to himself. Augustine knows that his life experiences taught him how wrong he was when he tried to find God outside himself, in the created world. He laments this fact in Book 10 of his Confessions: “Too late did I love You, O Fairness, so ancient, and yet so new! Too late did I love You! For behold, You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You; I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things kept me far from You, which, unless they were in You, were not. You called, and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shine, and chase away my blindness. You exhaled odours, and I drew in my breath and do pant after You. I tasted, and do hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace” (Confessions 10.27.38).
Reading Augustine’s experience of God as his true Hero, and accompanied by Mariah Carey’s words, we too can have “the strenght to carry on, … [and] cast  our fears aside.” This we do not just to survive but to thrive. For this to occur a condition should be met: if we put ourselves in the presence of this Hero, the Beautiful One, so ancient yet so new, and let Him transform us in Him! In this Hero no “hope is gone” and “you’ll finally see the truth”. That same truth which filled Augustine with that immense joyous peace of the Hero that resided in him when he was being formed in his mother’s womb. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139: For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps 139:13).
In Book one of his Confessions, Augustine gives a remarkable description of who his Hero is.
“What, then, are You, O my God — what, I ask, but the Lord God? For who is Lord but the Lord? Or who is God save our God? Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most piteous and most just; most hidden and most near; most beauteous and most strong, stable, yet contained of none; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud and they know it not; always working, yet ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. You love, and burn not; You are jealous, yet free from care; You repent, and have no sorrow; You are angry, yet serene; You change Your ways, leaving unchanged Your plans; You recover what You find, having yet never lost; You are never in want, while You rejoice in gain; You are never covetous, though requiring usury (Matthew 25:27). That You may owe, more than enough is given to You, [Supererogatur tibi, ut debeas] yet who has anything that is not Yours? You pay debts while owing nothing; and when You forgive debts, lose nothing. Yet, O my God, my life, my holy joy, what is this that I have said? And what says any man when He speaks of You? Yet woe to those who keep silence, seeing that even they who say most are as the dumb” (Confessions 1.4.4).
And what is the natural reaction at the finding of this eternal Hero within ourselves? Augustine duly replies for you and me: “Thou hast made us toward thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee” (Confessions 1.1.1)!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap