Becoming Role Models in Faith

Who do we look up to? Who is a model of faith for us? What can we learn from them?

Are our role models the worldly famous –Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Joe Biden of the world?

For too many of our young people, are their role models the rich and famous – Taylor Swift, Lebron James, Beyonce, Tom Brady, Selena Gomez…

Someone may be rich and famous, quite influential in our society, and yet, what do we learn from them? What do we see in them? Are they models of faith that help us journey toward the kingdom of God? Are they models of sacrificial love, ready to serve others, humble and kind, generous and not greedy, filled with goodness and faithfulness, glorifying God in the way they live their lives?

Or do we see in these worldly influencers self-indulgence, self-centeredness, arrogance, greed, immorality?

Who are the role models we look up to in our lives? Role models should serve as guides, inspirations, and examples for us as we navigate the path of faith and strive to follow the life of Jesus Christ.

In today’s Epistle reading, Saint Paul writes to his disciple Timothy, “My son, you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings… Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it…”

Think about who a role model is supposed to be and what important place they can play in our lives? They show us how to live. They give us a vision of what is possible. Hopefully they are setting an example of what a truly meaningful life is all about.

How many of us were inspired in our younger years by someone who gave us a vision of something we admired, of something that we desired to possibly become?

St. Paul understood this, that is why he would write to his spiritual children “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Of course, Jesus Christ is the ultimate role model. He is the standard which we should strive for. Yet, sometimes we may say to ourselves, “Well, Jesus is God Himself. He is the perfect human being. How can I imitate Him? I’m not perfect.”

This is why the Church teaches us to look at the saints –men and women like us, with their frailties and shortcomings, with their own sinfulness and weaknesses, yet people who loved God above all else, who humbled themselves before the Lord, who lived lives of repentance, and who opened their hearts to be filled with His Holy Spirit. Yes, the saints are humans like us, yet they reveal to us that it is possible to truly live a life in Christ. Some of these saints have lived and died in Christ in years past, some have been a part of us during our lifetime, and some are living today. The Church reminds us to study these lives and be inspired not only by what they said but especially by how they lived, how they imitated the life of Jesus Christ.

Role models act as mentors in our lives, guiding us through the ups and downs of our Christian walk. They teach us wisdom, encouraging us in our moments of temptation and struggle, and holding us accountable when we waiver. They challenge us to grow in our faith and remind us that all is possible with God’s help.

Even as we get older, we can discover new role models who inspire us and continue to give us something to strive for. As I am approaching 60 years old, I keep thinking of Archbishop Anastasios, who has inspired me at different stages of his life. He was 61 when he accepted the great challenge to enter post-communist Albania and begin resurrecting the destroyed church of Albania. And even now at almost 94 years old, he continues to inspire me and offer life lessons for me to imitate.

Of course, especially with the recent passing of my father on to eternal life, I often reflect on his life as my role model, and especially of his passion, love and joy for Jesus Christ up until his last days. I think of all he did, of his words and teachings of wisdom, but especially of the way he lived his life. He continues to be a role model of faith for me.

And I have been blessed with numerous other priests, colleagues, and faithful men and women in places I have served that have been exemplary models of faith for me. I’m grateful to God for these role models who have inspired me and set a path for me to follow.

Yet as we reflect with gratitude on the role models who have touched our lives, I think we also need to ask ourselves, “Are we good role model for others? What type of example am I offering to others? When others look at me, will they see an example of Christ-like love, of divine grace and mercy, of generosity and kindness, of a serious and sober faith?”

Remember, each one of us is called an ambassador of Christ, and thus, as an ambassador we represent Jesus Christ to the world around us. We are called to be someone who others can look up and in whom they see Jesus Christ. Do we inspire others to seek after God? Does our life motivate people to love God? Are we consciously trying to become true spiritual mentors and Christ-like role models for our children, for those in our church, for those in our work places and for those in society at large?

Are we setting an example of integrity, where our lives align with our faith and our character reflects the values of the Kingdom of God. Are we setting a model of faith, where we reflect an utter trust and reliance on our Lord, showing others how we rely on Him, turn to Him, thank Him, and strive to glorify His Name in all we do, say, and are? Are we setting an example of humility and simplicity, revealing to others that we are living as people not focused on this material world alone, but we are people in this world but not of this world, living under the reign of God?

This is a very serious responsibility. As followers of Jesus Christ, we can’t simply ignore it and say, “Well, I don’t want to be a role model.” NO! When we take on the name of an Orthodox Christian, when we commit to follow our Lord, we are proclaiming publicly that “Yes, I will try to act as a role model, a good, faithful, loving, Christ-centered example for others to see and imitate and be inspired by.” It is a sober, humble responsibility. And yet we must embrace it if we are serious in our Christian walk.

Thus, let us thank God for the role models who have inspired us and blessed us in our lives, and let us strive to become worthy role models for others. May we honestly repeat the same words of Saint Paul to his spiritual son Timothy - “My son, you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings… Imitate me as I have imitated Christ.”

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