Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen and Heard (September 25, 2008)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published September 25, 2008

An important, universal and unavoidable dimension of adolescence is hero admiration. As youngsters, we all have had our heroes and heroines—those folks that we admired and perhaps secretly longed to try to be like. Maybe it was a sports star or a movie actress or military hero or even an astronaut, but as teenagers we probably looked to some famous public people and dreamed about what it might be like to imitate them. Kids do so today as well.

Saturday, I met with some young people at the religious education program at our Cathedral. They were a quintessential group of adolescents. They sat quietly and respectfully during my presentation, but when I looked into their eyes I could tell that they would have loved to be any place else at that moment! They were reluctant to ask any questions—although I am certain that had I been with them individually they would have been as chatty as they probably are at home. But group settings can be very intimidating for teenagers. None of them wanted to appear overly interested or more engaged than any of their peers—especially in a religion class!

Yet eventually one brave girl asked how and where she could select a saint for her Confirmation patron. I told her to go to the Internet and to log into a Catholic site and search through the saints. She wanted to know more—how could she find an interesting saint? Again, I told her that those Catholic sites usually list saints in different categories—Irish, Italian or African saints, saints for youths, patron saints for athletes, bakers, artists, etc.

It’s amazing that our youngsters know exactly where they can find all of the latest information on Britney, Whitney, Brad or Snoop Dogg, but the heroes of our Faith are often hidden to them. Perhaps it’s because they think that the saints don’t seem real—they lived so long ago and were just “boring.” Still, I suspect that when those teenagers went home later that afternoon some of them might have gone online to see if the Archbishop was right.

Pope John Paul II did so much to highlight the saints and their proper role in the life of the Church. He made it a key part of his papal heritage to bring lots of saints to the attention of the Catholic world. The saints don’t have blogs, they don’t have press agents, they don’t have managers—they simply relied on the abundant grace of God to live their lives with excellence.

When I was serving as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during the height of the sexual abuse scandal, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the editors of a major weekly news magazine. We discussed the impact of the loss of heroes on our society during a time when every institution, including the Church, was suffering from the loss of role models, heroes and heroines. The editor told me that he felt that it was best that we not have people “with no flaws.” He suggested that the public disclosure of moral and ethical failures in once admired public figures would be a good thing in the long run since flawless people only dishearten the public. He suggested that the popular literary image of the “anti-hero” was a much better model for our society. I strongly disagreed and said that such “blemished heroes” only succeed in lowering the moral standards that should always inspire us. Saints are real people—they are like us in the foibles of their humanity but like God in their holiness, and I believe that we need more of them than ever before! Go online and check out a few!