Captain America: The First Avenger – Almost a decade has past since we first saw this origin story, and I still find myself getting inspired. This movie not only gives us hope that there is a hero we can count on, but it also calls us on to be that hero people can count on.
The story of Captain America is the story that every disciple of Christ is called to. At the beginning of the movie, we see scrawny Steve Rogers. All the desire in the world to go serve, but no physical strength to match it. Not only is he not physically equipped to go into battle, but not a single person believes he can even do it – even his best friend is skeptical.
Until he meets Dr. Erskine. Dr. Erskine sees his small stature and minimal to no muscle mass, but instead of seeing someone who has failed his entrance exam into the army time and time again, he sees his 5 attempts as his relentless desire to go into war.
Dr. Erskine asks Steve, “Do you want to kill nazis?” Unsure of Dr. Erskine’s motives, Steve answers honestly, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.” And for the first time, someone speaks hope into Steve as the doctor responds, “There are already so many big men fighting this war, maybe what we need now is a little guy. I can offer you a chance.”
As the movie goes on we see that Dr. Erskine has chosen Steve to receive the super-strength serum. When Steve asks why him, Dr. Erskine explains that the serum amplifies what is already within, so what is good, becomes great. Not only does he see the earnest desire of Steve to serve and protect, but he sees his good heart, and this is the exhortation he leaves Steve with just before his transformation – “Stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
Steve’s desire from the beginning was to stand up against bullies. Even when no one’s watching, when he’s all alone getting beat up in alleyways, he refuses to back down. He stands his ground. When he was given the serum, he was then equipped to actually go out and win the battles he was made to fight.
Dr. Erskine didn’t choose the strongest, the “obvious” leader that the commander wanted to choose. He chose the guy with a heart that desires to serve, sacrifice, and defend, even if he didn’t look equipped for the job.
God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. He doesn’t look for the one with perfect speaking abilities, with the most awe-inspiring stories, the loudest leaders, the most favored and looked up to.
He calls the ones who are willing to say yes.
Yes not to their own glory, not to dominating, but yes to the building up of His Kingdom. Yes to loving Him and his neighbor, even if that means sacrifice and getting beat up once in a while. Even if that means saying yes to a path you never imagined, like how Steve started out serving by performing commercials in tights. It only takes a yes. And it’s when we allow the Lord to come into our lives that we go from good to great. Just as Christ took Peter’s gift as a fisherman and elevated him to be a fisher of men, so Christ wants to take your goods, your gifts and elevate them to build His Kingdom.
But Steve wasn’t empowered just for the sake of being empowered. He was given his strength to go out and serve. He was given strength to fight the bullies, to defend the weak, defend the defenseless. In fact, the moment he receives his strength, he cannot help but defend. He is driven to act.
In the same way, when we truly encounter the Lord, and we allow Him into our lives, we too must be moved to act. Our relationship with God isn’t just to empower us, make us feel good, and help us become good people for the sake of ourselves. Our relationship with God leads us to discipleship, which leads us to evangelization.
When we encounter God, we can’t help but want to bring others closer to Christ. We can’t help but fight for other souls to know and love God. We can’t help but fight the bullies that keep us and our loved ones away from knowing God’s love.
As Christians, we are called to discipleship, and discipleship starts with repentance. So before going out into the world, what are your own personal bullies? What are the things keeping you away from God? Are there certain wounds that need healing? Is there anger towards the Lord because of what you’ve experienced? Is there a sin you can’t seem to let go of? What are the bullies in your own life, in your own heart?
God wants intimacy with us, but only if we’re willing to change and conform to how He lives, speaks, and acts. It’s in uniting ourselves to Him that we become who we are made to be, we go from good to great.
We are called to strengthen our relationship with the Lord through prayer, Scripture, and the Sacraments, most especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Lord equips us with all the graces we need to conquer our own bullies if only we say yes to the tools He provides.
The next step to discipleship is evangelization – to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. Bringing people to Jesus is not an option or a calling for some. It is our obligation as baptized and confirmed Catholics. Christ told St. Catherine of Siena, “you run to Me on two feet – one with love of Me, and one with love of neighbor.”
So the next question is – what are the bullies going on around you? And who are you called to defend? God empowers us, He equips us and strengthens us with the specific mission to stand up to the bullies in our lives and in this world that keep us from knowing the fullness of God’s love.
We may not all have to fight crazy villains like Red Skull, or make impossible leaps into fire or off cliffs, but we are all called to serve the Church and fight for the souls of our brothers and sisters with the same bravery and courage. Agent Carter called Steve “America’s new hope.”
Where are you called to bring hope into the world? Who are the weak and defenseless? The marginalized and forgotten you’re called to defend and bring hope to?
The Church gives us seven areas we can start with: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God’s creation – otherwise known as the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching. Our relationship with God is meant to lead to action, to mission. Where are you called to defend God’s people? What are the bullies you’re called to stand up to?
We may feel small and inadequate. There may be a million reasons that seem to keep us from going into battle, just as the examiners saw in Steve. But just as Agent Carter said to Steve as he was questioning his purpose, “you were made for more than this, you know?”
We need to be brave enough to recognize the bullies in our own life and in the world, and have the courage to fight how and when the Lord calls us to. We don’t need to be perfect. We don’t even need to be fearless. We just need to say yes, and the Lord will take care of the rest.
The Lord will make you great in the specific way He’s called you to be. May we have the same fire in our hearts to stay strong against oppressors and say with Captain America, “I can do this all day.”