Slammed If You Do, Slammed If You Don’t

Jesus said to the crowds: “To what shall I compare the people of this generation?  What are they like?  They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’  For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’  But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

–Luke 7:31-35–

When I was in my teens, my sister Elizabeth, who is about two years older than I am, got it into her head to start asking me that fatal question: “Bernard, do I look fat?”  The first time I answered this question, I replied immediately: “Of course not!”  My sister responded: “You answered so quickly, you obviously did not think about what you were saying.  It was a canned reply, and therefore I don’t believe you.”

Well, the next time Elizabeth popped the question, I naturally paused for just a brief moment before answering: “…You don’t look fat at all.”  My sister rejoined with: “I noticed the pause before you answered.  You had to think about what you were going to say and choose your words carefully.  It wasn’t a spontaneous, honest reply.  I don’t believe you!”

No matter what I said, I was doomed.  (This, incidentally, was one of the many moments in my young life when it occurred to me that celibacy might not be all that bad!)  There was no winning with Elizabeth.  I simply had to resign myself to inevitable defeat.  A friend has arrived at the same conclusion.  Every time his wife asks him, “Honey, do I look fat?” he responds, “Honey, do I look stupid?”

Jesus tells us that there’s no winning with the world.  If we practice faith-inspired abstinence, the world calls us mad.  If we take legitimate delight in the good things of life, the world tells us that we are self-indulgent.  Saint Francis de Sales puts it quite bluntly: “It is not possible to satisfy the world’s unreasonable demands.”[1]

If this is true, why do I even try to live up to the world’s impossible expectations?  The only One I really need to satisfy is God.  After all, He, and He alone, will be my ultimate Judge.

The long and short of it is: We can’t make the world happy, but we can please God.

[1] Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 1.