Is it useful to have an ideal? Yes. Is it good to have an ideal that I can never match? Yes. And this is not just talking philosophically—i.e. that since I am imperfect and cannot be my own ideal, my ideal ought to be someone other than myself in order to be an ideal. It does not suffice to make my ideal the inherently unattainable personhood of another person. In other words, it is not enough for my ideal to be merely a human person other than myself to satisfy the criteria of a true and wise ideal. If I choose someone I admire as my ideal—maybe it is my parent, or a friend—then that person cannot guide me except in part, because each one of us has our own destiny and has to find our own way through life, weighing decisions wisely against each other.
Eventually God will not let me hide behind either obedience or blind trust to avoid the interaction with Him, which I can only attain by rolling up my sleeves and living. With my admiration affixed to another imperfect human, it is not unlikely that I will end up in the conundrum of Sartre’s student. When he came to ask for Sartre’s advice of what to do Sartre gave him none, but said: “You are free, choose, that is invent”. And even if I made a better choice than admiring Sartre, still, since my ideal is forever different in essentials from me, that person is unable to decide for me—or in other words, live my life for me. The mystery of our absolute “un-translatable” life is unavoidable. If I hang on to my ideal, I run the risk at some point in my life of being betrayed by those I chose to trust, because they were only human after all… Even very loving persons cannot tell me what to do because they are banned from that inner center of me where decisions originate. My heart belongs to God, and He is a jealous lover. He will not suffer another love. He will make it evident that nothing and nobody other than He will satisfy me. If I stubbornly hang on to my admiration of others these ideals will paralyze me, making any decision impossible to make and carry out. Not even the dearest and most beloved can decide for me or take the initiative in which a decision must originate.
So, what am I to do? Is it possible to live without an ideal? If I would answer “yes” I would certainly not be alone. For one, I’d be in Sartre’s company, for what that is worth. To be honest, I would prefer another partner. I see nothing magnanimous or logical in the cold, merciless denial of the fact of a person’s admiration and wish to emulate. It is a very shortsighted mentality that refuses to accept that we are inherently moldable, dependent, and actually vulnerable. Such a view of human nature is false, and the person who holds such a view must necessarily give no advice or interact in any meaningful way with any other person. It is a mockery of human nature. In short, it is hell on earth.
Instead, I like to think of what Jesus did. He set a child upon His knee. He pointed to the little one as the answer key when the crowd pressed around Him, hungering for His advice. He could have just let them stare at Him. After all, Jesus knew that He is the only proper ideal, the only one who can and will advise, guide, help; the only One worthy of admiration. But He didn’t do that. Instead He did more than that. He put a little one on His lap.
I like to think of His Mother standing near when He placed the little one on His knee. Maybe She smiled when the little one looked from Jesus’ lap on the crowd of people, gathered around with their eyes and ears peeled. I like to think of that little one staring back at them and their silent questions: What would the Master say? What would He tell them to do? It must have been an experience to remember for that little one: meeting the eyes of the crowd, probably with serious eyes, maybe with his small finger in his mouth… Jesus had been little like that. Did His Mother remember that, with another smile on Her calm face? She was not eager and worried like the crowd. She knew Her Son. She had held Him just like that so many times. That is my answer key. Jesus not only showed them a child, who cannot help his or her desire to imitate, who watches and admires, but He did something. His action spoke. By putting that little one on His lap He showed how He wants me to admire; to find the face in the crowd who recognizes me, who smiles back at me with full recognition, who will lead me. He looked at that face; He admired that face; He imitated Her. I want to share that Ideal with Jesus: Mary, His Mother.