Note: This homily was delivered during the Mass of the Holy Spirit in Xavier School on 29 June 2012.
Last summer there was a movie that almost everyone I know made sure to watch. Since I grew up loving comics, I couldn’t miss it too. I’m of course talking about Marvel’s The Avengers, probably the year’s most anticipated movie. Finally, we get to see the dream team of the best Marvel super heroes join forces and put their superpowers together to do what they do best: saving the world. Since Iron Man came out in 2008, we’ve been seeing these short teasers after the movie’s end-credits. Iron Man gave us a glimpse of Nick Fury and the so-called “Avengers’ Initiative.” After that, three more Marvel Comics movies whetted our appetite with their teasers: Iron Man 2, which gave us our first look at Thor’s missing hammer, followed by Thor which introduced the Tesseract, and then Captain America, which finally gave us a full-blown Avengers trailer. I think I got a migraine attack because I watched the movie in 3D, but like many of you, I enjoyed every second of it. Where else can you find Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow all crowded in the same movie? But do you notice something strange about these Marvel superheroes? They’re not exactly perfect. In fact, they’re all very human. And they have far-from-perfect lives. Every single one of the Avengers has a problem, a flaw, or a shortcoming that makes you wonder how they turned out to be superheroes in the first place. The most obvious one is of course the Incredible Hulk. After a laboratory accident where he got exposed to a fatal dose of gamma radiation, scientist Dr. Bruce Banner turns into this destructive monster every time he loses his temper. It’s really Shrek gone wild. The other Avengers have their own personal bag of problems too. For example, did you know that Hawkeye and Black Widow are both ex-villains? Hawkeye–Clint Barton without his costume–was a criminal archer before he joined the ranks of the Avengers. And even as an Avenger he remains a loner who pretty much prefers to keep his distance from others. In the opening scene of the movie, he is perched high, away from the crowd in some hiding place. So it’s not easy for Hawkeye to work with other people or other superheroes. Hawkeye’s friend, Black Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff, has a very dark past. As we find out in the film, she’s a Soviet agent trained as a master spy and martial artist, who even in some earlier comic issue attempted to get Hawkeye to battle Iron Man. But her history is proof that even the worst criminal can convert and become a superhero. Iron Man is, of course, billionaire playboy Tony Stark, a brilliant engineer. But we know he is as competent as he is conceited. He’s probably one of the most arrogant characters in the Marvel universe. He suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapping so he creates a powered armor initially just to save his own life, but he later decides to use the suit to play superhero–even announcing that to the world!–and ends up actually doing good for others. Captain America is the exact opposite of Iron Man: Steve Rogers is as meek as Tony Starks is arrogant. It’s quite understandable. He used to be a weakling, a frail young man who was probably bullied and made to feel an outcast most of his life until an experimental super soldier serum changes his life and turns him into a popular–and buffed–military commander in World War II. Towards the end of the film Captain America, he meets an accident and ends up spending decades frozen in a block of ice in a state of suspended animation. When he finally wakes up, this super soldier is culture-shocked and is ironically once again an outcast because he finds himself in an alien 21st-century world where all his friends have died and everything is suddenly, frighteningly strange. And yet it is precisely his old-fashioned wisdom that is his best contribution to the Avengers. Then finally, there is the so-called Mighty Thor. Of course we know that he’s the crown prince of Asgard who gets everyone into trouble because of his impulsiveness. But he also comes from a dysfunctional family and has to deal with a very problematic brother, Loki. The object of his brother’s jealousy, Thor is betrayed by Loki and his crown stolen. Despite everything, however, Thor somehow still ends up constantly showing compassion to his brother. So there you have it: As you see, each of the Avengers has his or her own share of problems. This teaches us something very important about superheroes: Superheroes don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s probably their imperfection and their problems that have brought out the best in them.
And when I ask you that question, I’m not asking you to identify your superpower or special gift. Rather, I’m inviting you instead to name your imperfection, weaknesses, and problems. With whose imperfection do you identify the most? Hulk who has a constant problem with his temper and character? The Black Widow who’s had her share of mistakes and crimes in her previous life, but who developed enough of a conscience to convert? Or the loner Hawkeye who has always had issues with community life but who learns to work with a team? Tony Starks aka Iron Man who’s so competent he’s always tempted to be proud but who finally realizes that his talents are best used in the service of others? Captain America who tries hard to overcome his culture shock and learns how to live in the strange world of the 21st century? Or finally, are you like Thor who’s beset with family problems but until the very end manages to show compassion towards his problem brother?