I always felt like female superheroes were for sporty girls who were physically strong, and beautiful too — and who could rock a form-fitting, skimpy costume.
I did like that Batgirl’s real name was Barbara, like mine, but that was about it for my appreciation of superheroes.
I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered.
Comic books and action movies aren’t my go-to genre, maybe because I didn’t find superheroes relatable. My taste in comics, as a kid, ran more to Archie than to Wonder Woman, and you won’t find either Betty or Veronica in this book. But superhero comics, movies, TV series and video games are super-popular, and I think Maria has hit on the reason for that:
We can envision ourselves in the roles we see on the screen and respond to these courageous characters with admiration and appreciation for the fortitude or integrity they exhibit. Characters such as Katniss Everdeen and Wonder Woman often resonate with us because we admire their virtues. We might live vicariously through their fictional adventures, but can emulate their traits, such as courage or justice, in our daily lives. (viii)
Let’s chat with Maria Morera Johnson, author of Super Girls and Virtues: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue:
Was it difficult to pair up the fictional heroines with real saints?
The fictional heroines were easy — they are my favorites! The saints, however, had a way of finding me. A saint of the day would pop up when I was organizing the heroine’s attributes. Or I’d see a holy card and investigate. I mean, I’ve had these Catholic things around me, now they were suddenly coming to life! The most dramatic happened on vacation in Scotland when I encountered a small shrine to an Australian saint, St. Mary MacKillop. I’d say, the saints wanted to play with me, and I was happy to invite them along for the adventure.
Unlike the heroines who depend only upon themselves and the development of their human virtues, the saints, cooperating with God’s plan, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help them grow in holiness. They accept God’s will in their lives, regardless of the sacrifice or tedium. This can be called heroic virtue. (xv)
Which saint/heroine pair was the most surprising to you?
I think Rey from Star Wars and St. Clare of Assisi caught me off guard. It was a tough section to write about, Justice, but it came together rather easily when I was able to find the right saint and the kind of heroic virtue that understands God is due our worship as well as our love. I think people understand Wonder Woman in a chapter about Justice, but Clare, who is peaceful rather than warrior, has raised some eye brows and a little head-scratching. I think I do the pairing justice, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As a lover of literature, I find that the most compelling, realistic characters are those that remain true to their natures. (xii)
Which saint or heroine do you think is most like you?
I definitely found Dana Scully from The X-Files to have a similar, or at least familiar quest for the Truth. It’s the most personal chapter in the book, where I talk about my own falling away from the faith and my struggle to come back. It pairs beautifully, I think, with St. Benedicta of the Cross, who converted to Catholicism after leaving her Jewish faith for atheism. Most of us are familiar with Edith Stein, and so she immediately popped into my mind for pairing with Scully. Dare I say these were matches made in heaven? I crack myself up … but I think there’s some truth to it!
As we move from the heroines’ stories to the lives of saints, we see how the cardinal virtues, strengthened by God’s grace, led these women to holiness. We learn through these saints that we grow in virtue by practicing the tenets of our faith, too. (xiv)
And now for some book-launch fun, courtesy of Maria Johnson! Enter her social-media contest for a chance to win a Wonder Woman plush OR a T-shirt featuring a truly Catholic heroine.
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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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