“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Most teenagers have read The Catcher in the Rye, that ritual of passage by J.D. Salinger, about a dropout from several high schools who lives in a society he feels full of shallow hypocrites, the sole sincere person being the drummer at Radio City Music Hall. This classic ritual of passage nails the know-it-all phase before realizing that we all ultimately play roles and excuse ourselves for doing so. It’s unavoidable – or is it? What would Holden Caulfield make of St. Paul, had he ever known him?
I remember that stage of life when I had been searching for role models, persons who lived with a single purpose, focusing on a goal, not just drifting like chips on the river of life without commitment, vision or direction. I had such in my life, or at least as long as they had life; but even then in the Bible I found and held out throughout my lifetime the blessed St. Paul. He is the epitome of sincerity. The term means “without wax,” as was used to fill in the cracks and crevices of marble to make it appear whole.
In his early years a voracious reader of scripture, the prize pupil of the renowned rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 5:34, 22:3), Saul persecuted Christians with a vengeance, even traveling to Damascus in order to obtain from the authorities license to search out and destroy the followers of Jesus Christ. Then when confronted by our Lord on the way, tossed from his horse and blinded, and asked: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4), he turned his life around totally and spent his lifetime in obedience to the same Lord Jesus whom he had hated so completely. Hence, the above phrase he wrote to the Galatians.
There is for all of us a time between times when we pass from idolizing our parents to becoming like them, that phase of objectivity to the people in our lives. We become like Holden Caulfield, ignoring or not noticing how we have failed to live up to our own early ideals, and yet having the audacity to measure the essence of parents, teachers, clergy, relatives, friends and neighbors – all who have been in some way influential in our lives. They may take the time to tell us how we should grow and what we ought to become, and yet we accept or reject their counsel by looking into their eyes. Do they live themselves the values they proclaim? At least it was that way for me. Pretenders, imposters, poseurs – society and even those near to us are filled with the broken pieces of pitiful humanity that provide examples of what not to be.
Then we come upon one precious pearl worth waiting for, making up for all the lost time following those who steered us into blind alleys. Of course the Bible is replete with such gems, beginning with Christ Himself as well as St. Paul, together with the other apostles as well as patriarchs and prophets from the Old Testament; but there must be some alive for us in our adolescent years in order to prove that even in the 21st century it’s possible to point to living examples of sincerity, people whose lives are all of one piece, filled with the precious virtues of the Orthodox Christian faith. At times the search can be frustrating. Those we consider worthy of our emulation may turn out to be less than genuine. We forgive them, bless them and continue the search – but when we find some living witness to the pure, genuine article, we can do nothing better than to become ourselves like him or her, a model of Christ alive in us as well.