Hero is not a word adults tend to use very often. When children use the term, more often than not they think of “superheroes,” individuals with some special power that the rest of us lack.
Brendan R. Hill begins his book, Unlikely Spiritual Heroes, which was sent to me by the Catholic Company, with the observation that “No one is born a hero. Heroism seems to be a coming together of background gifts, a mysterious and providential calling to meet a challenge, and a courageous and tenacious response.”
Unlikely Spiritual Heroes is the third piece of a trilogy by Hill about twenty-four of his heroes. His first book, 8 Spiritual Heroes, explored how his subjects “pursued God in unique and inspiring ways. The second, Freedom Heroes, explored efforts by his subjects to free themselves and others. This volume explores eight Catholics whose lives were an effort to implement the social teaching of the Catholic Church as it relates to social justice and peace.
Hill’s chooses an interesting collection of subjects, including a lay woman, two nuns, three priests, a cardinal and a pope. From my perspective, I especially appreciated reading about a woman I had known nothing about, Dorothy Stang. In several cases, I was familiar with some stories of the individual’s lives (Maximilian Kolbe and Jean Donovan, for example), but Hill’s chapter enriched my appreciation of their contributions to peace and justice. Reading about others was, for me, like visiting with an old friend. While I might have other personal heroes that I might rank ahead of some of his, each of his eight subjects is a worthwhile and inspiring one. And the fact that, as Hill says, “anyone who knew them early on would not have guessed…the amazing efforts they would make to bring peace and justice to their world,” provides a lesson that we can all do more than we sometimes think we are capable of.
Certain themes carry through the narrative of each individual. All of Hill’s heroes are people of prayer, reminding us we can do what we do through the grace of God. Each of them, in their own way, demonstrates that the power of love against hatred and destruction. And each demonstrates a selflessness that is extraordinary.
The book is an easy read, but a worthwhile one. Most of what we read in our media is about those who fall from grace. We could all use heroes and here are a group of people worth learning from.