Good people face different temptations than bad people. Instead of being tempted to obvious evil, it is more common that good people are tempted to think that their best efforts will not be good enough, and so they should not even try. The trap in this way of thinking is warned against in the folk saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and in Theodore Roosevelt’s aphorism “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
The Christmas season can be very hard for people who aspire to perfection. We want to find the perfect gift, we want to have a perfect Christmas dinner. We want to have a joyful and harmonious holiday season with our families and friends. And all too often the reality of our all too human lives falls short of what we have hoped for. And then, just a week after Christmas, comes the New Year, and its associated resolutions, and all the risk of failure that comes with resolving to do better in the upcoming year. What is a faithful Christian to do?
Today’s readings give us some tips. We can draw comfort from the humility of John the Baptist, who denied being anything other than a voice crying in the wilderness. Who said he was not worthy of untying the sandal of the messiah. Being humble means, among other things, being free of excessively high expectations. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians reminds us not to quench the spirit, but to hold fast to what is good, and to give thanks in all circumstances. A grateful, thankful heart is naturally resistant to despair.
Let us pray along with St. Paul that God may keep our spirit and soul and body safe and blameless as we look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus. May we never hesitate to do good out of fear that it will not be good enough. And may we be resolute in our faith that the one who calls us is faithful, and that he will fulfill his promises to us.
—Fr. Jim Stenberg C.S.B