What exactly do saints and superheroes have in common? For the most part, saints are ordinary people who eventually went on to do extraordinary things. Not all superheroes fall into that category, since Superman is an alien and Thor is a mythological figure. But what saints and superheroes have in common is that they inspire and help people. And oftentimes, they are also misunderstood from those who don’t really know them.
One thing saints and superheroes also have in common is that in spite of how out-of-reach or how hard it may be to relate to them at first, there’s always little things that makes us identify with them. I’m not just talking about whatever flaws they might have like St. Augustine’s struggles with chastity or Batman’s chip on his shoulder, but little ordinary things that make the saints and superheroes human. It can be something as small as the fact that Peter Parker is a photographer or the fact that St. Therese of Lisieux got lost in a daydream of being in a ballroom with people in fancy clothes. It can be a certain flaw like Thor’s belligerence or St. Thomas Aquinas’s horrible handwriting. I’m still fascinated by the fact that one sample of St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings included a picture of a doodle. As a college student, I can definitely relate to doodling in the margins.
I always ask people in my interviews who their go-to saints are because I have this fascination with people who are devoted to saints. I love hearing about how a certain saint interceded in someone’s life or how imitating a certain saint changed the life of a person. I think of Fr. James Martin’s “My Life with the Saints” and Colleen Carroll Campbell’s “My Sisters The Saints.” And then I think of the saints who’ve influenced my life.
Back in my childhood, I loved reading about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Kateri Tekawitha. Nowadays, my go-to saints are St. Monica, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Therese of Lisieux. At the start of this year, I also used a couple of saint generators to find my patron saints for this year. I got St. Francis from one and St. Augustine from the other. I’ll go more into all of these saints later on my blog, but for now, I want to talk about my 3 go-to saints and summarize why I love them so much.
St. Monica was my Confirmation saint. Although I don’t ask for her intercession often, I know that she is praying for me a lot. I attribute her from saving me from some really bad relationships. My love for St. Thomas Aquinas came from spending four and a half years at the University of St. Thomas (the one in Houston, TX). I loved his intellect, his devotion to the Eucharist, and how he challenged the naysayers of his day. St. Therese is my current favorite saint because I relate a lot to her. She and I both have a “still waters run deep” going on and I identify with her Little Way so much.
I also feel like St. Therese has a big influence on who I am now as well. Through learning more about her life, I found a lot of stuff that applied to my own life, even though we live centuries apart. She and I both acted as Joan of Arc in a theatrical context (I did a monologue, St. Therese wrote a play), we both wrote poetry, and we both struggled with a lot of scrupulous thoughts and a lot of interior temptations. We also were deceived by people of malicious intent, but found the strength to carry on. St. Therese’s devotion to Joan of Arc is also similar to my love for Buffy because at the time, Joan of Arc wasn’t canonized. Even though Therese couldn’t fight a war and I can’t actually do the cool stunts done on the show, but we both wanted to imitate the courage of the women we admired.
So if St. Therese is my current favorite saint, who exactly is my favorite superhero?
Well, she’s somebody who isn’t exactly a traditional superhero per se. She has super powers, though. In fact, she alone can stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of evil. She is the Slayer.
While I was scrolling through my Tumblr feed, I came across a psychological analysis of Buffy from The Mary Sue which mentioned something called Superhero Therapy in which psychologists use characters from fiction as part of a process to help their patients go through their problems. The process involves finding a character that the patient identifies with and paralleling a character’s problems with the patient’s. It astonished me, when I read both articles, that I wasn’t the only one who saw Buffy as a catharsis for my personal problems. Fr. Roderick Vonhogen had a similar experience that he describes in his memoir Geekpriest, in which he identifies many heroes such as Luke Skywalker and Spiderman having an influence on his life growing up and using superheroes and other fictional characters as a way to evangelize as a priest.
In a way, Superhero Therapy and having devotions to the saints results in the same thing: finding someone who can understand our problems and carry us through them. Buffy and its titular character played a big role in helping me overcome an anxiety attack I had in October that was triggered by my so-called best friend. I identified with Buffy’s vulnerability, how often people manipulated and used her, and how she overcame so much.
As much as I hate Season 7 of Buffy, a few of my favorite episodes are from this season, one of which was when Buffy said this:
From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?
In that moment, even though I knew that vampires weren’t actually real, I felt that I became a Slayer myself.
Just like how all the Potential Slayers gained power from the essence of the scythe, each one of us has the potential to become saints, using God’s grace. And the more you look into it, the more you’ll see that saints and superheroes have a lot in common.