As a newly converted Catholic, I get asked some pesky questions. Cradle Catholics seem to expect me to have taken the time to have a defense for everything or at least some insight into the differences in theology. Once a deacon asked me how I had made it over the ‘Marian Bridge’. The truth is Mary wasn’t a big hold up for me. Prior to my conversion, I was Episcopalian and already believed in the communion of saints. The fact that Jesus’ mother was an important saint didn’t really seem like a stretch.
This is a big point of division for a lot of my protestant friends so for a while after I was asked the question, I did give some thought to what made Mary so important. I also got to thinking about how Mary was related to Catholic social teaching. Then life intruded on my thoughts and I started thinking about Batman and suddenly everything made sense.
That’s right Batman. I am a geeky dude. I guess the Holy Spirit talks to shy Jewish slaves with burning bushes and sometimes he talks to geeky dudes with Batman. Jim Gordon uttered the line that pointed me in the right direction in Christopher Noland’s classic, The Dark Night: “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.”
A hero is sort of like a Savior. Our world doesn’t deserve any savior but it most definitely needs one now. What kind of savior do we need? Well, the first thing I realized was, it’s definitely not Batman!
If anyone is unfamiliar with the Batman mythos, I am silently judging you. Here is a refresher on what you should already know. Bruce was born into a family of unrealistic privilege. When he was very young, both his parents were gunned down in full sight of Bruce by gang members. Consequently, Bruce grew up lacking both emotional support and loving guidance of either parent but his parents had left behind two things far more important in the comic book world, loads of money and a vendetta. This pushed Bruce through the four stages of comic book grieving, denial, anger, spandex fetishism and vigilante justice, to become, as far as we know, the only productive member of Gotham society.
I guess it sounds pretty silly even to a hard-core geek like me but Batman isn’t alone in having lost both parents. This is what is known as an archetype and the archetype applies to just about every comic book super hero, for example, Superman, Spiderman, Wolverine, The Punisher, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, That guy who uses the arrows… I could keep going but you see the point. Why is family tragedy a prerequisite for the saving the world in spandex club?
Comic books are American popular myth. Our heroes are meant to symbolize our highest ideals. In American pop culture these are our Jesus figures and in American mythology we want a messiah that is a “self made man”. He doesn’t get his power from anybody. With his innate and unnatural gifts, our hero would never need a helping hand even from a loving parent. So the first thing we have to do with our Americanized Jesus is kill off Mary. A mother will just get in the way of our savior being awesome.
Bruce Wayne is the not the savior the world needs: he is the savior we want. We certainly don’t want Jesus, a man born into a poor family. Jesus was the target of injustice to be sure. While Bruce Wayne fought injustice with Kung Fu and awesome toys, Jesus fought injustice with truth, meekness and his own suffering. If we idealize that then we would have to suffer. Even if Jesus was not the savior the world deserves, he is the savior the world needs and the world needs Mary.
From a Catholic Social Teaching (CST) point of view it is clear our archetypal savior must have a mother because our savior must embody the virtues that we hold dear. No matter what our culture might have you believe, the self-made man is not the Christian ideal. One of the seven keys of CST is our duty to family and community. Jesus would not have embodied this if he had severed the connection to his earthly family. Another key is global solidarity. Jesus could not have embodied this had he depended on riches that kept him up in Jesus-Tower completely removed from the suffering and temptation of those he came to save. It was his incarnation through his poor teenage mother that made his solidarity with the world possible.
Wait a minute! Does that mean those of us who have had family tragedies cannot reach for this Catholic ideal? In our real world today, the forces of darkness have consumed many families through one means or another. Have we no heart for the orphans? Is the Catholic Church only suited for people raised in a loving family? Can we not have a Catholic Batman?!? The answer to all these questions is (drum roll, please) Mary.
I don’t believe the cornerstone of Marian spirituality was the Magnificat any more than I believe the Church began with the incarnation. Spirituality begins when the grace is given to us. The church began with the Eucharist and the cornerstone of Marian spirituality is this:
“Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27
Jesus said his faithful needed to come to him as children. He told us this would begin when we where born anew. Regardless of our real family experiences, our family begins again, so like Bruce Wayne we adopt new identities not as lonely self-righteous vigilantes. We become Mary’s children. We are brothers and sisters forming one holy family stretching through the entire world. Our great powers come from aligning ourselves with this new holy family. Every family needs a mother. For this God saw fit to give us Mary.
It is the pivotal moment when Geoffory met young master Wayne in his grief and they prayed the Rosary together when he truly became The Batman. I don’t know why they left that out of the comics. What was in the comics, however, was a very special place in Bruce Wayne’s heart for orphans. Even if you are not a geeky bastard, you have probably heard of Robin. You might recall Robin himself was an orphan taken in by Bruce Wayne, but only a true geek could tell you how many Robins there have actually been in the comics.
In the standard DC universe there have been four so far. One died, one died and returned, and the best-known Robin went on to become Knightwing and then the New Batman. Not all were orphans exactly, but in a sense Bruce was always adopting and raising young disciples. This is another virtue of our pop culture heroes, they understand that it is not enough to avenge the injustice they have suffered. In order to be a comic hero you must understand that true justice only comes when we protect our entire human family.
This part of the Batman mythos is very Catholic. On its best days, our church is a kind of super hero. All over the world today Catholics are leading fights against injustice, and mother church is always on the look out for orphans. No matter what path our earthly families took we can all be the Mary’s wards. Our Holy Mother is waiting to adopt us and begin our training for our new identities.
I have two challenges for the reader this post. The first is to pray the rosary as a child. Know inside yourself that you have much growth to do, and look to your mother for guidance on what you shall become. The second is to pray the rosary with someone who needs a family. Our power comes from each other. We become this new body only when we open ourselves up to giving and receiving the spirit from the other members and our new parents in heaven. Find someone who really needs that spiritual family and pray the rosary with them.
Together we can become the Body of Batman … well you know what I mean!