The updraft blew hard against my face. The big sky of Montana and the far off horizon stretched before me. It was time for flight.
Clothed in blue pajamas with Mom’s best red towel secured around my neck by a rubber band, I leapt off Bootsie’s doghouse. The exhilaration of flying brought a smile to my five-year-old face. For a brief moment, I was Superman.
Is this a familiar scene from your childhood? I don’t think I’m the only one who dreamt of being a super hero. Millions of readers purchased enough Superman comic books to launch an industry.
As Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics says, “Superman is the mythology of a hero. This is what a hero does and what you can do if you choose to be a hero.”
In reality, we all have a little of the shy, bumbling Clark Kent in each of us even though we still want to be Superman. This recognition of our own humanity, while also aspiring to be greater than ourselves, is an appropriate mindset for being a good Christian.
And there are plenty of references to Christ in Superman Returns, the latest film in the 68-year history of the character.
• We hear the fatherly voice of Jor-el (Marlon Brando) remind his son: “They can be a great people, Kal-el, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.”
• After Superman (Brandon Routh) saves Metropolis from destruction with every ounce of his strength, he falls back to Earth, his arms spread wide like a crucified savior.
• When a sliver of deadly Kryptonite is removed, Superman rises from near death to soar into the heavens and bask in the glow of the energizing sun. Subtle, it’s not.
What is different in this film, however, is watching Superman deal with an issue that he can’t fix with his super strength or x-ray vision. He finds that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on to a new relationship and has become the mother of a five-year-old. Time waits for no man, not even the Man of Steel.
Much of the tension between Superman and Lois is reflected in the title of her Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” which she wrote during his five-year absence searching the galaxy for remnants of Krypton.
Left on Earth without even a goodbye, Lois writes the editorial to close that chapter in her life, only to have it blown back open when Superman saves her life, again.
The film does not show us the editorial. But knowing Lois, the fiery reporter who would risk anything to get the latest news story, she might have written something like this:
“Each of us, man, woman and child, has the power within ourselves to fight corruption, dismiss hatred and help build a caring community that fosters truth and justice among all citizens.”
On the surface, this is an admirable sentiment that empowers everyone to build a good society in which to live. It makes sense in Metropolis and it makes sense in America. We built our country on the democratic principles of liberty and freedom for all.
But it’s not enough.
In Superman’s world, the citizens of Metropolis can’t build a caring community by themselves. Every night Superman flies high above the Earth and hears the cries of the oppressed – people who need his presence in their lives to save them from the evils of the world.
In our world, we can’t succeed without the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ our Savior. We need His words to guide us and His daily presence in the Eucharist to nourish us. We need His life as our ideal, that we should always aspire to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
July 25 is the traditional feast day of St. Christopher, but it was dropped from the calendar in 1969 when the church simplified the list of celebrated feast days to include those “who are truly of universal importance.” Unfortunately for St. Christopher, July 25 is also the feast of St. James the Apostle. Since few historical facts are known about St. Christopher, he was left off the revised calendar, though he was never “de-classified” as a saint.
Legend says that Christopher was a giant man who carried a child across a raging river. As he made the journey, his small burden became heavier and heavier. With every ounce of super strength that he had, Christopher completed the journey, discovering that he had carried the Christ child, who bore the weight of the world.
We should all be “Christ bearers,” living our lives with an understanding of our human failings but with the aspirations of being more like Jesus Christ.
In Baptism we received a white garment to signify the start of a new life by “putting on Christ.” Whether secured by a rubber band around our necks or wrapped around our entire being, this garment can be the cape we need to navigate this world and soar to new heights.
First published in the July 14, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.