The idea of a Catholic “role model” today has been reduced to a nice person, a charity worker, a 4.0 college student, or a sports star that makes the sign of the cross. These people could very well be role models, but the idea today is very stunted.
Many would acknowledge that heroes, such as military heroes, have the make-up of role models, but their actions are beyond reach for everyday life. According to the modern idea, we would strive to be more “normal” and get along with everyone around us. A role model should therefore simply be a kind, upright person who is agreeable to be with.
This idea of a role model is wrong. But what makes a man a true role model?
There are three main characteristics that are necessary to make a man a real role model. The first is substance; a role model must have personality. This does not necessarily mean he should be the loudest voice in the room, or the tallest or most muscular fellow around, but it means that he knows who he is and is quite sure of himself around others. A person who has personality is not easily swayed by fashion or trends; he is stable and comfortable with who he is.
The second characteristic is that a role model defines himself by principles. He strives for virtue and good. A true role model is indistinguishable from the principles and ideals that he holds. These principles are conveyed to others in a way that he becomes almost a symbol more than a man. Think of a crusader: the man almost fades away behind the beautiful cross on his chest.
The third defining element of a role model is that he opposes anything that is contrary to his principles. This is really the point that is lacking in the modern idea of role models. Whether it is in big or small ways, he refuses to compromise his principles.
These three characteristics make a man worthy of being imitated, and through this we see how few role models really exist in the world today. Moreover, we see false role models propped up for the perversion of people, especially the young generation. Celebrities, sports stars, music sensations, and even politicians are trumped up as “role models.”
A few good examples of past role models would be Pope Saint Pius X, who led the fight against modernism inside the Church to the chagrin of many corrupt Catholics; Saint Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who led an army against the English, all because of her obedience; Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a humble monk (with a serious personality) who fought and attacked the enemies of the Church through hundreds of thousands of leaflets, fliers, and magazines; or Col. John Ripley, USMC, a hero in Vietnam who was not afraid to show his fidelity to his faith, country and family.
There are many, many more examples—and many are alive today. So the next time you hear someone laud the “courage” of a sports player or Olympian, or speak in awe of a movie star or celebrity—why not tell them about a real role model?