Originally, the word hero came from Greek mythology and referred to a demigod, a child of a god and a mortal, or someone with god-like qualities. Eventually, a hero came to mean anyone who faced adversity with courage or self-sacrifice. Often when someone is called a hero they say; I just did what I was supposed to do (or trained to do). A person who scores a winning goal in a hockey game is not a hero, just lucky.
Despite our often misuse of the term hero, I think we don’t use it often enough. Let’s combine the earlier senses of the word and see what it tells us. On the one hand, there’s the idea that a hero possess god-like qualities. A Christian, by definition, at least attempts to have the divine qualities of Jesus Christ (Christ-ian means Christ-like).
The Christ-like qualities of love and mercy aren’t magically bestowed on us at Baptism, but we work at acquiring them and living them out in everyday life. Often we are faced with challenges and adversities that make it difficult to be Christian. And if it weren’t for the depth of love we feel for our fellow human beings, the challenges we face might be overwhelming.
There’s no problem, as far as I’m concerned, to call police, firefighters, ambulance personnel, and similar kinds of people heroes. They are. However, the term hero should also be used for the people who meet less public challenges with an equal measure of heroism. I am thinking of the daily ministry many people have of caring for a sick child, parent, or spouse; or an individual who faces illness with grace; or a child who tells a teacher about a bully; and on the list could go of the heroes we know.
I make no apologies when I say that calling the guy who scores the winning goal in a hockey game a hero is simply the wrong use of the word. Real heroes change the world, not necessarily the whole world, but certainly their part of it. It is the faith of every unsung hero that I laud today.