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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Go on a Hero's Journey

Robert Barron - Go on a Hero's Journey

Robert Barron - Go on a Hero's Journey

Peace be with you. Friends, if you've been following my work the last couple years, you know that I've been interested in Jordan Peterson, the psychologist from Toronto, who's become quite a celebrity on social media. And Peterson, like Joseph Campbell before him, is a Jungian, so a student of C.G. Jung, the great twentieth-century psychologist. And Jung bequeathed to us this idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, these sort of patterns of thought and meaning that permeate so much of culture. And they can see them in myth and literature and religion, etc., etc.

Campbell, by the way, had a big impact on George Lucas, who produced the "Star Wars" movies. And you can hear a lot of Jungian and archetypal overtones, of course, in those stories. Well, both Campbell and Jordan Peterson are very interested in this archetype of the hero's journey. Now you can see it indeed in "Star Wars". Think Luke Skywalker beginning as this sort of mild-mannered figure and then going through this long process and becoming a hero. You can see it in almost all the superhero movies, they're so popular now, look at the Spider-Man story, etc. So all over the literature of the world. Now, here's why I want to talk about it with you.

As Peterson lays it out, this is on display very strongly in the Bible. Now here's what I mean. Peterson's telling is that someone begins in the familiar with a cozy domesticity, what they're well aware of, what they're comfortable with, and then they're summoned somehow out of that cozy domesticity into adventure, and they go forth into "terra incognita". They go into some kind of unknown land, some unknown territory. Calling forth courage, yes indeed, because they're going to face down all sorts of obstacles. They're going to face their own ignorance, their own fear. But if they're courageous enough, they're stout-hearted enough, they will open up a kind of landing area in the "terra incognita". They'll establish a new ground where others can move in. They're going to claim something of this unknown land and make it available to others.

That's the structure, Peterson says, of every hero's journey. You know what comes to my mind here, especially in the "Lord of the Rings" books and movies, because Tolkien was very much in touch with this. Remember how "The Hobbit" opens with Bilbo Baggins, in his very cozy, very comfortable little Hobbit hole. And his life is well ordered. Everything is at peace. Everything is fine. And then suddenly he's invaded by this group of dwarves, and they interrupt his domesticity and they turn things upside down. Then Gandalf the wizard comes. And they're all inviting him into this great adventure. It's going to cause him to leave home, to leave what he's familiar with, to go into all kinds of unknown lands, face all kinds of dangers. But in making that journey, he makes possible something that would never have happened otherwise. He conquers something of a "terra incognita" and makes it habitable for others.

That's the great hero's journey. Well, as I say, once we get this, we begin to see it all over the Bible, with this interesting addition: It's not just coming from inside the potential hero, the motivation to act in this way. It's not just coming from friends who challenge him. But the one who calls forth the heroism of the hero's journey is none other than God himself. Think in story after story where God does exactly that, he calls people out of their comfortable domesticity and to move into more dangerous territory, to go on a kind of adventure. And only because of that heroic journey do they make a new way of life possible for others. It's all over the Bible.

Now I bring this up because of our remarkable second reading, and we don't read it that often in the liturgy, so I want to focus on it. It's the Letter to the Hebrews. We don't know for sure who wrote it. For a long time people said Paul wrote it, but the scholars are almost certain that he did not. Whoever wrote it was someone who's very familiar with Jewish life, especially the rituals and customs of the temple. But we find some of the richest theological reflection in the New Testament, I think, in the Letter to the Hebrews. And in this chapter 11 that we read from today, he's talking about faith. Now, this is a much contested idea today, trust me. Because the enemies of religion will typically say, "Yeah, faith, people accept any old nonsense. They've abandoned their reason. They're accepting things on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. That's what faith means. It's a childish way of thinking".

Now, can I suggest to you, that has nothing to do with what the Bible means by faith. The Greek word, by the way, that you'll find in the new Testament is "pistis" for faith. And a better rendering of that would be something like trust, confidence, trusting in God, listen, even when I can't see for sure where he's leading me. Trusting in God even when it's not clear to me what God is about. But following him willingly in an attitude of faith. It's an invitation to a hero's journey.

Now listen, with all that in mind, listen to this now from Hebrews chapter 11: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go". See that's the essence of it, everybody. Not accepting nonsense on the basis of no evidence, that's not at all what the Bible means by faith. It means this. A willingness to leave your hometown, where you're comfortable. What do we say today? Your comfort zone. To leave that and to go trustingly in search of something God is going to show you. Listen: "By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise".

Interesting, isn't it? Same promise. They had to follow that promise in faith too. "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God". Trust, confidence, a willingness to go on an adventure. Ah, that's at the heart of the matter for people of faith. It's one thing to say "I believe in God" as an abstract proposition. Yeah, but do you have faith in God? You see what I'm saying? Do you have trust in God? Are you willing to follow God where he leads? That's where things get interesting. That's where the rubber meets the road. That's the test of your belief. Not just an abstract intellectual proposition, but are you willing to trust?

Listen, "By faith he", again, Abraham, because he's the father of faith, he's the paradigmatic figure of faith, "By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age, and Sarah herself was sterile, for he thought the one who had made the promise was trustworthy". Because he was willing to trust in God's promise, what happened? "So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky".

See there's the paradigm. There's the archetype of the hero's journey. Because he was willing to go on adventure, he opened up something for everybody else. He made possible the emergence of this holy people. And listen, anyone hearing me right now who's baptized, you're a child of Abraham, because you're born of his faith. It's because he was willing to trust and go on that journey that you are here today, thousands of years later, as a person of faith. Now, the pattern's repeated up and down the Old Testament. You see it with Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, everybody else. Think of Isaiah when he receives the call: "Here I am Lord, send me".

Well, where am I going to go? I don't know for sure. But, "Lord, send me". I've got trust. I've got faith and confidence. When Jeremiah pulls back, "Oh Lord, don't choose me. I'm too young," the Lord says, "Don't tell me you're too young. I'm going to give you strength to go forth". Okay. That's what faith means. I think here of the great Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. I think he catches this biblical notion of faith in his idea of the "semper maior," Latin for "always greater, always more".

In other words, no matter where you are, no matter where you are in the faith journey, there's always more. There's always somewhere else you can go. There's always another adventure. That's the attitude of faith. The God who awakens faith is the God who awakens heroes, awakens people to go on heroes' journeys. Okay. Now as if all of that is not remarkable enough, can I close by just drawing your attention to maybe the most amazing thing in the biblical witness? Yes, God calls all kinds of human beings to spiritual heroism. Yep. Calls them to faith and trust and confidence. But if I can be a little bit edgy, I think the real story of the Bible is God himself going on a kind of hero's journey.

Look, God is God, God is absolute, perfect, satisfied in every way. And yet, and yet, God undertakes the adventure of creation. And then, when his creation falls into sin, God undertakes the great adventure of rescuing his creation. Remember that passage from Paul in Philippians chapter 2: "Though he was in the form of God", the "he" here is Jesus, "Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God a thing to be grasped at". The Son of God didn't remain in the sort of cozy domesticity of his divine life. "But rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross".

The Son of God went on a hero's journey, went into the "terra incognita" of sin. Paul says on the cross Christ "became sin," and what was made possible, everybody, by that hero's journey? The space of salvation opened up for all of us. If Christ had not gone on that hero's journey, we would not live a divine life. God didn't cling to godliness but went on an adventure so as to bring us life. Do you see now how our faith, as I've been describing it, which is not believing any old nonsense, that's not at all what faith means, that our faith, our trust in God, is an imitation of his willingness to go on the hero's journey? Because he did it, we can do it. We put our faith in him. And God bless you.
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