In the Acts of the Aposles today we see the too extremes. One crowd wants to stone Paul and Barnabas. The other crowd wants to worship them. These two images call to mind what seems to be a tendency within us. We set people on pedestals and then when they fall we are filled with anger and disappointment.
One response is to become cynical and abandon the idea of role models all together. This has the unfortunate effect of making us even more self-centered.
Another less problematic but still problematic path is the "What would Jesus do?" approach. One the hand we should do this. One of the key images for the Christian is the "mimetes" or imitator. We are told to be imitators of Christ. Th only problem is that while we say we should imitate Christ, on a subconscious level we remember that he was perfect, without sin. We know that we are not perfect, and so something inside us sees imitating him as the unacheivable goal. It's like going on a diet and telling yourself you are going to loose 7 pounds per week. You have set a goal you cannot reach or maintain. So, soon you give up and go back to your old ways
While St. Paul tells us to imitate Christ. He opens chapter 11 of his First Letter to the Corinthians with what is perhaps his most sage advice
Be imitators of me, as I am also of Christ.
Here St. Paul establishes the role of all the people we call saints. He strikes the perfect balance and sets an absolutely obtainable goal. We recognize that Jesus was unique and none of us can ever be like him. But we can all be like Paul. After all, Paul had no special gift that is not available to each of us. He knows his own fragile humanity well, and is not ashamed to tell us about it, and yet he was able to be a saint
We do not worship St. Paul or any other saint, but we do need to keep them before us as models for us to imitate. Read any of the lives of the saints (except the most romanticized versions) and you will see the flaws in each of them. Part of what made them saints was their self-awareness regarding sin. Saints know their limitations, they know the place of temptation in their lives. They also know the power of God's grace.
We learn best by example. We need role models. Some people complained about the large number people St. John Paul II canonized in his time as Pope. If you look at the list you will see people from all walks of life. Maybe it's time for each of us to find a couple of saints in particular whom we can imitate. Never doubt that you can be a saint too.