The following first appeared on The Word on Fire Blog. It was written by Jared Zimmerer, an author, husband and father of four from Denton, Texas, whose apostolate, “Strength for the Kingdom,” teaches about the inherent connection between spiritual and physical fitness. It is reprinted with permission.
There is little else in American culture as recognizable as the “S” that is emblazoned upon both the chest of Superman’s suit and the hearts of almost every boy born in the last 80 years. Comic books, cartoons, movies, video games, high-dollar action figures, vehicles and tattoos from around the world brazenly broadcast the message of the intriguing personality of a man named Clark Kent who has an intensely woven past, which takes him 33 years to truly understand.
When one thinks of a superhero, Superman is at the top of the list. From sleeping in my cape to watching the same cartoons and movies over and over again, Superman virtually defined my childhood.
How is it that a fictional character, a figment of one man’s imagination, can interlock its way into the minds and hearts of generations in such a unique way? Is it his seeming immortality, his super strength, or his ability to simply wear a pair of glasses and become a face in the crowd? The latest epic film “Man of Steel” is Clark Kent’s preparation for his destiny and it acts as a mirror of boyhood hopes and dreams to save the world.
The moral messages and calls to greatness of “Man of Steel” are the movie’s lifeblood, all encircled with explosive action scenes. One highly enthralling message is that Krypton, Superman’s home planet, collapsed because of the immoral actions of the native people’s decision to play God and use life and its beginning in its own image and likeness.
Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s biological mother and father, decide to break the laws of the land and have a child naturally, instead of the farming conceptions which had become conventional. Krypton had inaugurated the “artificial population control” program, building a society of use rather than love, at least 1,000 years before Kal-El (Superman) was born. Jor-El and Lara wanted more for their child, born from his mother’s womb instead of grown in a field, and a life where he decided what to become instead of a governing body strictly convening a vocation — a pro-life morality unmistakable in its breadth. Thus when Krypton began to literally self-implode due to the greed of its inhabitants, Kal-El was sent away, to a planet with “seemingly intelligent” humans who would in all probability consider him a god.
During Clark Kent’s (Superman’s human name) childhood, his earthly father prudently kept Clark from wholly exposing his ability, which inadvertently instilled in Clark a fear of his own powers. Not because Mr. Kent was scared of Clark’s capabilities but because he did not want him to be taken away. Time and again humanity struggles with the same type of fear. We worry about taking that extra leap of faith into a world unknown to us, which applies both spiritually and humanly.
Clark was ridiculed many times during his childhood for being what the other children called a “freak.” Clark personified Matthew 5:10-12 as he was persecuted and insulted because of standing for what is right and good with all of his gifts.
Within the film there is an instance when Jonathan Kent, Clark’s earthly father, sacrifices his own life for two reasons. One, because he wanted to save those he loved and two, to be a shining example of moving past the fear of greatness and taking the moment of heroism seriously for Clark’s sake.
When Clark finally meets a shadowy image of his biological father, one quote stood out which I believe is the real message of Superman. Jor-El began explaining why it is that Kal-El contained these powers and then challenges his son by saying, “You’ll never know how strong you can be, unless you keep testing your limits.” At the very core of Superman’s meaning, this motto is what attracts most to his story. It applies so well to each of us mentally, spiritually and physically.
If we do not continually search for an immeasurable intelligence, the greatness of literature, philosophy and theology would lose its gumption. At one point you see a young Clark happily reading Plato. If we do not push our physical limits we lose what God had intended to grow. Clark tested his own powers by continually pushing harder, flying higher and lifting heavier.
When we allow our prayer lives to falter and the ever-needed continuing conversation with Christ, through His Catholic Church, our souls become weak and eventually drag down our entire being. Before a major decision Clark strolled into what appeared to be a Catholic Church and spoke with the pastor. Striving for greatness and doing what he must to reach perfection is what made Clark Kent develop into a hero. Knowing that he was meant for more and that his mission was essential to humanity’s purpose, Clark found the driving dynamic in his search for meaning.
A Christ-like figure
Many say that Superman is a Christ figure. He accepted his mission at 33 years old, he is not of this world, his powers are beyond mere humans, and he is willing to die for all of humanity. In this film, the first time the viewer sees Superman angry is when his enemy attacks his earthly mother, quite Christ-like as well. The connections are quite clear and reasonably genuine. However, I would argue that the image and message of Superman is the image and message of sanctity.
To be a saint, we must open our hearts to grace and invite the living Christ to dwell within us, where true valor lies. To be Superman we must want to be a saint first. For without the desire for greatness, the willingness to lay down your gifts, talents, and life for the mission God has given us, we cannot be saints, thus we cannot be super men and women. Saints are those who cooperate with grace to save the world from evil doers. Superman is an iconic display of sainthood and through his want of good for all he also reveals Christ, just as we can.
“Man of Steel” portrayed Superman in a bit of a different light than previous movies. Clark Kent in the past had a small bit of cheesiness to his wit and humor, whereas in this epic Clark possessed what I recognized as a wild tranquility. You could feel the anger writhing in his soul when harm was aimed at those he loved but in every situation, whether with friend or enemy, he was humble and gentle of heart and body, true characteristics of a soul in search of sainthood. We find out in the movie that the “S” on Superman’s chest is a Kryptonian symbol for the virtue of hope. In examining our lives and striving for benevolence let us also wear this sign, which takes form by way of the crucifix, and become a symbol of hope for a fallen humanity.