Wednesday, September 16, 2009

no satisfaction

It's not just that "you can't please all the people all the time": some people are just never satisfied! Try as you might (but why would you?), you will never meet their ever-shifting criteria for approval or success. I'm reminded of the experience St. Therese wrote about. It convinced her never to trust herself to public opinion, not even in Carmel's rarefied atmosphere. She was perhaps a novice in the community when one sister passed by and remarked with joy how hale and hearty she looked. Just a few minutes later, another sister came down the hall, took one look at the young sister and clucked mournfully, commenting that she seemed frail and sickly. (As things turned out, that second nun may have been onto something!)
If there was ever a passage of Scripture that would convince us not to try to conform to the expectations and values of the surrounding culture, it would be the Gospel for today: The crowd's opinion would attempt to control or determine the message it received from God's messengers, starting with criteria for the messengers themselves. Jesus himself couldn't measure up to people's expectations--nor could John the Baptist, whose preaching and lifestyle had such a markedly different flavor. But the conventional wisdom was far from the truth.
That's why I tend to be very suspicious of religious "prophets" whose message dovetails nicely with the acceptable criteria of the wider culture. Not that we should be contrarians, always looking for shortcomings in the values we find expressed in culture, laws, initiatives and so on. (I can't fathom, honestly, why some Catholics keep insisting that the Vatican isn't "green" no matter how many solar panels are installed in the papal buildings...) We are supposed to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit wherever that Spirit blows! But there should be a certain healthy, grace-charged critique that goes right along with our honest recognition of the goodness that the culture, law, initiative or whatever is attempting to advance. If we fail to keep that "both-and," we are still dancing to a tune the wider culture is playing without the benefit of the Gospel difference.

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