(by Fr. Niko Bekris)
I don’t know about you, but May 4, 2018 cannot come fast enough.
Since 2008, seventeen movies have been released by Marvel Studios (Black Panther next week!). If you’ve seen any of these films, you know that they have been steadily building to one epic climax which is finally going to (begin) to pay off this year on May 4 in Avengers: Infinity War- Part 1. The trailer was released last November and quickly shattered records for most views in a 24-hour period (some 230 million, if anyone was wondering)
I. Can’t. Wait.
The centerpiece of this entire franchise has, of course, been the Avengers films, which feature the lead characters of each individual Marvel Studios film. They’re are popular for a number of reasons, but perhaps the greatest of these is that it is about a team. As I’ve said before, it’s exhilarating for fans to see so many of their favorite characters together, especially when it’s in a well-crafted movie. We fall in love with characters appearing in separate stories, and when all are brought together in one gigantic blockbuster, it becomes something extra special. Seeing Iron Man share screen time or a page with Thor and Captain America is an incredible thrill no matter if you’re a fan of one or all three.
We love teams so much in movies and other stories, and yet one might ask why it is so hard for human beings to “team-up” in real life? It seems that at times we have trouble being around others at work, in our families, even in our churches. Make no mistake, people are people anywhere you go, and this affliction- “us vs. them”- has existed in some form or fashion through all of human history. How many of us would prefer to work with others rather than just ourselves to accomplish a task we are in charge of?
How many of us welcome advice on how to be married, or raise our children, or in our profession? How many of us are willing to admit that we need help, and cannot do it alone?
These questions might seem like common sense, and you might be reading this and wondering why someone would even ask this. But have you ever met someone who would not be inclined to do any of the above? And lest we think that this is just a characteristic of a few stubborn friends of ours, have we ourselves ever been in situations where we’d rather be alone? Of course we have! It can be hard to go outside of ourselves and tear down our barriers. It can be hard in a family, in the workplace, in a public place, and in a church as well.
The fictional members of the Avengers also deal with these issues. They struggle with different personalities, ideologies, and even appearances. Each hero is a very different person with their own set of strengths and weakness. Some can’t stand each other at all and don’t even stay on the team after one mission. Some have even been a good guy and become a bad guy, or vice-versa. Amidst all of this, however, is one gigantic lesson which can benefit all of us: they put aside their differences to come together for the greater good.
As pretty and nice, not to mention rudimentary, as this sounds, it really is something that I’m realizing is more and more profound the older I get. When two people admit that they are not perfect but can put aside their differences for the sake of a greater good, MIRACLES can be accomplished! I can tell you stories of parents who stay in a relationship for the sake of their children. I can tell you stories of people who try hard to get along with difficult people at their job, and then are noticed by their superiors for doing so.
Parishes, even opposite religions, create a powerful message when they come together for a shared meaning. Who cannot help but be moved when they see priests standing at the altar and celebrating with other priests? The words “inspiring,” “moving,” and “powerful” come to mind.
On top of all this, one more word which might spring to mind is “entertaining.” Even if it is unlikely two people would ever get along in real life, it is fun to watch them try. It’s a recipe for success, and one we can apply to our own lives, not to mention stories. The same is true for us as Christians. We don’t always have to like each other, but we do have to love each other. And we do have to try.
In the life of our Church, there have been many times when two or more saints stand on opposite sides of a particular fence, in total disagreement, and yet are both considered saints. We know from the Scriptures that the apostles didn’t always get along, both during Christ’s ministry and after. Paul mentions a fallout with Barnabas. (Acts 15:36-41) The apostles bickered over who would be the greatest in the kingdom! (Mark 10: 35-45)
Even Saint Basil the Great, in some of his letters to priests in his diocese, commented negatively about how his younger brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, was doing a poor job running his diocese!!
We know that Peter and Paul were on opposite sides of the fence with regards to receiving converts (Galatians 2:11-14), and yet their icon depicts the two of them in a brotherly embrace, and they even have a feast day together (June 29).
And I’d say that turned out pretty well for the rest of the world.
We are always going to be different from people around us as everyone is their own unique person. There will always be disagreements, be it with co-workers, family, spouse or children. There may even be fallings out with particular relationships, and this is to be expected! What happens after that, however, is what’s important. Do we stay there, angry at each other and refuse to speak? Or, like the Avengers or the saints of our Church, do we reconcile our differences without expecting the other person to be someone they are not, for the sake of the greater good?
May we also, with courage and dedication, take on those thorny parts of people’s personalities that we don’t always feel inclined to be near. Let us, as well, battle for the greater good, and inspire those around us by being true Christians.
“Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:22-26