While I was recently reading The Tale of Troy with my fifth-grade class, a hand shot up from the back of the classroom. The student wanted, desperately, to know, “Who are the good guys?” The thread of good and evil, right and wrong, had been lost in confusion and machination, in plots and treachery, and in the struggles of the immortal against the mortal, and of the strong against the weak. Knowing who was winning did not matter to this young man. Knowing who stood with right and honor was what strengthened his heart. He wanted to know: “Whose side do I fight on? Where do I sign up?”
In that cry for clarity, I saw once again how the human heart has an innate need to know who the good guys are. It helps to keep us grounded. It strengthens us. We can endure suffering, if we recognize the forces of good, why they fight, and the moral ground on which they stand or fall.
When Sir Ernest Shackleton embarked on his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he ran an advertisement in The London Times: “MEN WANTED: for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”
Over 5,000 applied.
The same ad has been run by the Holy Spirit in our day, and the same response is pouring in. We just need to recognize it.
Throughout history, and no less now, the good guys have often been few or hidden or seemingly defeated. They have pondered the implications of refusing an oath and have chosen to be God’s servant first. They have gone into hiding in an Amsterdam attic and kept hope alive in a copybook. They have left their blood on church floors in Sri Lanka on Easter morning and witnessed to the Resurrection. Their safe return was doubtful. They lost and were silenced. Or so it sometimes seemed.
During World War II, a call went out for writers to preserve journals and diaries. There was a conscious effort to safeguard the witness of those fighting on unconventional battlefields: delivering supplies on bicycles, hiding families in farmyards, and whispering news behind enemy lines. We know of those good guys because we have their stories.
What if St. Thomas More had sketched his thoughts as he reasoned his way to martyrdom? What if a child’s diary from Mosul revealed her defiant hope? What if the men who drafted the dubia had preserved their notes for posterity?
The truth, and the good guys who safeguard and defend it even at the cost of their lives, is needed now more than ever. In today’s struggle between good and evil, the battle lines are often dangerously blurred. The powerful have the pulpit, they falsify truth by stonewalling and obfuscation, and the moral path is abandoned as a relic of an unenlightened past.
And sometimes those whom we think are the good guys turn out to be crooks. They betray our trust, inflicting deep wounds.
But the clarity of moral right has ultimate and enduring power, which cannot be silenced. The existence of good is, in itself, a response to evil.
You become a good guy in the silent, regular actions of everyday life or in its most dramatic moments. When Todd Beamer boarded United Flight 93 on September 11th, he brought with him faith, courage, and principle. God chose him for that flight because He needed a good guy. Todd led the passengers against the terrorists with the “Our Father” and a “Let’s roll.”
The very existence of the good guys in the Church today preserves our sacred patrimony: the spiritual, doctrinal, and moral traditions handed down through the centuries by God through the minds and hearts of fellow good guys who have resisted attacks on truth in order to strengthen us for what is to come, for what we will be called to endure.
They ponder the implications of redressing error in red paneled rooms down the Tiber in Rome. They may go into hiding because they’ve seen the evil behind closed doors and have refused to acquiesce to the convenience of a cover-up. They are silenced in solitary confinement in a cell in Melbourne and witness each day to the lived Crucifixion.
The call is a privilege. The safe return is doubtful.
Shackleton’s men never reached their destination. They lost their ship, Endurance, and languished off the coast of Antarctica in what seemed an endless vice-grip of the elements. But that failed expedition is known as one of the greatest triumphs of the human spirit. Shackleton returned with every man alive, doubtless drawing strength from his family motto, “Through endurance, we conquer.”
In a 1969 radio address, Joseph Ratzinger predicted, “From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge. . . .the real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end. . . .the Church of faith. . . .[It] will enjoy a fresh blossoming. . .where man will find life and hope beyond death.”
Long hours of darkness may lie ahead, but we are assured of the final victory. The gods on chariots with lightning bolts in their arsenals never have the last word. The God of Israel, who speaks in silence to the faithful soul, always has the final say.
WANTED: The Good Guys.
Never underestimate how much you are needed to answer the call.
*Image: Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton by Reginald Grenville Eves, 1921 [National Portrait Gallery, London]