Can we still have models in the Church?



Jean Vanier, Marie-Dominique Philippe, Ephraïm, Thierry de Roucy and so many others of these figures who have marked several generations of Catholics recently fell from their pedestal, while we discovered the abuses they committed. Sadness, denial or a feeling of betrayal… This fall of the stars also engendered a deep disarray in many, and a crisis of confidence. Who to follow today? Can we still have models in the Church?

And besides, should we have models? In Christianity – as in other religions for that matter – there is a long tradition that invites you to go to the school of a master, a “father”, a “mother” or a saint, to progress in the spiritual life. The apostle Paul, already, did not hesitate to enjoin the Corinthians: “Take me as a model, my model is Christ” (1 Co 11.1). Except that Jesus is not a model to imitate from the outside, notes Father Jean-Charles Nault, Abbot of Saint-Wandrille (Seine-Maritime): “The relationship to him is interior, it is a configuration, the Christian will let him relive his life, his paschal mystery in himself”.

However, “Because we are embodied in a very specific history and contexts”, adds the Benedictine, the Church, and in particular the last three popes, also propose models as close as possible to our reality by canonizing men and women of all cultures and states of life.

But what relationship do we have with these “models” in particular when they are still alive? Basically, every person is built by a process of successive identifications – with parents, then with a whole series of figures -, as psychologist and psychoanalyst Julie Saint-Bris reminds us. However, this process can also continue, for some, in the construction of a journey of faith. However, she emphasizes, this construction by identification is, on the one hand, a “process”, which, as such, must be scalable and not remain frozen on a single model. On the other hand, the inspiring person being “The one whose characteristics echo in my soul”, it is these attributes – his generosity, his courage… – and not the whole person that one should identify as admirable. Because in any case, the goal of this process is “To recognize little by little what animates us internally and to play our own score with our talents and our humanity”.

Pope Francis expresses it differently by recalling, in his exhortation on holiness Gaudete and exsultate, that great witnesses are certainly “Useful to encourage and motivate us”, But “Not for us to copy them, for it might even take us away from the unique and specific road that the Lord wants for us”. To copy a model, warns the Pope, a Christian could miss himself and “What the Lord has placed in him that is truly personal”.

“The problem is our tendency to idealize, that is, to want those we admire to be perfect., notes Julie Saint Bris. In fact, we project on them our ideal of the self, this ideal that we would like to be, and we have the greatest difficulty accepting that these inspiring figures also have gray areas ”. “You only begin to understand between black and white there are a thousand shades of gray by breaking your face, discovering yourself imperfect, through the trials of life”, emphasizes the therapist, who receives many priests and nuns in her office.

This tendency towards idealization and spiritualization runs the risk of falling under the influence of an unreliable model. This is what happened with some charismatic figures. Instead of helping their disciples to enter the real world of their life, where God can truly reach them, they have, on the contrary, captured the idealization of which they were the object and diverted it for the benefit of their enjoyment. . Thus, in certain communities, when the disciples spoke of the “father”, we did not always know whether we were speaking of God the Father, of the Holy Father or of the founder himself… Idealization can become idolatry.

Idol or icon? This is, in fact, the whole ambiguity of the model. “Idealization can be a stepnecessary but you have to be able at a time to mobilize the critical body in oneself through which to appropriate what has been transmitted to us ”, assures the priest and psychoanalyst Jean-François Noël (read below). Basically, what weight do I put in this relationship: does it leave me a clean space? Or am I engulfed in fascination with this model?

Brother Pavel Syssoev, prior of the Dominican convent in Marseille, encourages us to first ask ourselves the question of what we are looking for in the spiritual life. One can be attracted for the wrong reasons by an “inspiring” figure. Am I attracted to because she shines, because she is successful? Some turn signals should also come on today. Dom Jean-Charles Nault enumerates several criteria likely to shed light on discernment, and first of all the humility of the person: “Does it attract to itself or does it refer to the Church, to Scripture in the great tradition of the Church? Is it inserted in the Church or on the fringes? Capable of withdrawing when the time comes? Does it put itself forward, does it seek the media? “ Brother Pavel Syssoev also notes certain language tics: “When we only speak of the“ Father ”, or of the“ Mother ”. When the discourse used by the spiritual master is akin to: We are the elect, we are experiencing something so extraordinary that others cannot understand. When he goes to insist on affectivity and the sacrifice of intelligence… These are points of attention, but sometimes we choose not to pay attention because, at the same time, these people really do good. “

The good model, according to the theologian Arnaud Join-Lambert, is like the “mirror”: “It allows you both to see yourself in truth and, if you incline it otherwise, it allows you to see elsewhere, towards someone else. It is important to direct the light but it is not the source. It allows you to attach yourself to it to build yourself and to detach yourself to become an adult. And therefore to refer to other models, dead or alive. The more there is a plurality of successive choices, the better. “

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