About a week ago I had a long conversation with an old friend of my wife's who was complaining about some bad habits of Tradistanis, in particular the mindless aphorism that a good Catholic should "Be like the saints." What about St. Simon the Stylite, she wondered, who lived the last few decades of his life upon a pillar? Should we also live on a pillar until our deaths, or should we arbitrarily choose another saint to imitate? The question was provocative, but it made the point that it is rather absurd to advocate the imitation of the saints without being somewhat more specific about the ways in which we are to imitate them.
It used to be that sainthood was a glory bestowed on certain of the faithful departed who had lived a life of extraordinary virtue in some manner worthy of admiration and imitation. They needed to be publicly recognized so that we could learn from their spiritual fruitfulness and also so they could be called upon for intercession with the Most High. God especially loves those who love him, and is more willing to be swayed by their requests.
Christians could learn what makes a good pope from Gregory the Great, what makes a good penitent from Augustine, what makes a good monk from Benedict. Martyrs teach a simple though difficult lesson, but the lessons we are supposed to abstract from most of the more recently elevated are ambiguous. What shall we learn from Teresa of Calcutta: that we may permit pagans to die unbaptized? Shall we learn from Mary Faustina Kowalska how to feminize Our Lord? Can Josemaria Escriva teach us how to terrorize our subordinates? Was John Paul's particular virtue popularity? When the virtues desired for imitation are not specified, the faithful are left to assume that those canonized are perfect through and through without any shade of turning, and will perform extraordinary feats of mental gymnastics to maintain this pious fiction.
Adding P. Paul to the very kalendar he created is fitting, if not edifying. We do not yet know how Pontifrancis intends to laud his progressive predecessor. One wishes we had reason to hope for the best, but one also knows better.