By Father Joseph Breighner
March is a month of hope. While it is still winter, spring is not far behind. While we’re in Lent for most of the month, there is Easter at the end.
March has many meanings. It includes my birthday. I suspect I was named for St. Joseph, whose feast day on the 19th. Of course, there is the feast of all feasts, St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th. For one day, we are all Irish.
As I was growing up, the saints were our heroes. Think of the many Irish nuns and priests who staffed our parishes, built our hospitals and ran our schools. It seems a long time ago when they were societal heroes.
Part of our problem as a society today is that we lack heroes. I watch very little television and almost never go to a movie, but I hear from others that the media is less than inspiring.
I was in grade school in the 1950s, when cowboys ruled television and the movies. They were always the good guys. When I think back to the formation of my own vocation, aside from the priests and nuns whom I admired, my hero was the Lone Ranger. As I’ve shared in previous columns, I remember listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio. (That’s really dating myself.)
The Lone Ranger never shot to kill. He always arrested the bad guys and handed them over to the sheriff. At a time when Indians were usually portrayed as “bad guys,” the Lone Ranger had a faithful Indian companion, Tonto. An Indian was a hero, too. The Lone Ranger never accepted any payment or credit. He would do the good deed and invariably ride off into the distance, leaving the people behind to ask: “Who was that masked man?” And the answer, with stirring music building in the background, was always the same: “He’s the Lone Ranger!” “Hi-yo, Silver, away!”
It was in the 1960s that the cowboy as the “anti-hero” began to develop. It was a tragic loss. Not coincidentally, vocations to the priesthood and religious life declined drastically. The culture began to emphasize “looking out for No. 1,” rather than “looking out for one another.”
During my 35 years on the radio, a priest asked how much I was making doing a nationally syndicated show. I wasn’t being paid anything at all. The Lone Ranger never got a salary or a bonus. At least I do get a retirement stipend and Social Security.
I realize that this all sounds terribly naïve, and it was. But through the lens of the Lone Ranger and other cowboy heroes, I could see Jesus. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus went from village to village, preaching the good news, and healing all who were sick. He didn’t get paid. Apparently some women, according to the Gospels, followed him and looked after his needs. People he had cured often didn’t know his name.
No, I can’t pretend to live with the sanctity of Jesus. I feel more honest sharing St. Paul’s sentiments and “boasting about my weakness.” The desire and the power to do good always comes from God. The need to be noticed or special comes from our egos.
So let’s honor our heroes this month. St. Patrick escaped slavery in Ireland, only to return and be a missionary to the Irish. There’s a wonderful book by Thomas Cahill titled “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Patrick saved the Irish, and the Irish helped to save our Catholic faith and traditions.
St. Joseph was more like Tonto. He always had a supporting role in salvation history, but no less an important one.
So if we can allow ourselves to all be Irish for a day, could we not allow ourselves to all be saints, at least for a day? And if we succeed in being saints, no one will notice, but the world will be forever changed for the better.
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