A New Year’s resolution: ‘If you can’t say something nice about someone . . . ‘
“In My Father’s House” / By Paul Thomas Moore
“So, this guy walks into the confessional, and says to the priest, “Father, I have a big hurdle in my walk with the Lord. I have absolutely no problem with the various blessings I’ve been given, but these crosses have got to go.”
I only wish I were joking, but at least Father was gracious enough to laugh, and observe that a lot of people probably felt like that these days.
I had brought a cheat sheet of the 10 Commandments into the confessional, but upon reflection, most of my transgressions were against a commandment I didn’t see listed there: “Thou shalt not complain.”
Between COVID, politics, and getting older, I’d been violating that commandment rather regularly.
TEMPTATIONS TO COMPLAIN
Regarding getting older, I’ve been thinking recently that when a young couple speaks romantically of “growing old together,” they often have an image of beatifically smiling seniors with bifocals and distinguished gray hair sitting on the porch in their rocking chairs. However, with the passing years my wife and I have found the reality is a little closer to “falling apart together.”
If the aging process offers me many temptations to be a complainer, COVID and politics are a close second and third. Over and above a healthy knowledge of what is going on, I tend to pay attention to too many facts, statements, predictions, and opinions in these two areas, rather than just saying “enough” at a certain point, and “letting go and letting God.”
Furthermore, I often compound my wallowing in these worries by “sharing” my ruminations with others.
The challenge is that these conversations tend to veer into negativity rather quickly, and never actually find their way out.
BLAMING OUR CROSSES ON OTHERS
Certainly, as Christians, if we follow the Bible’s admonitions to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to be as shrewd as serpents yet innocent as doves, we will see and hear good things, and not-so-good things. It’s good to be critical thinkers, but rather than turning a jaundiced eye toward the world, it’s just as important, in all mercy, to be honest about my own hypocrisies.
For instance, back in the confessional, I have on occasion admitted to harboring uncharitable thoughts toward others, but then backpedaled by hinting that, after all, they sort of deserved it. Of course, the priest never lets that go. The focus in reconciliation is about removing the wooden beam from my own eye rather than the speck in someone else’s.
That’s a countercultural attitude these days (and probably in every day), when so much seems to be about blaming our crosses on everyone else, while taking full credit for our blessings, and holding them close, like the rich man who wanted to tear down his barns and build larger ones to store his bountiful harvest, rather than giving thanks and sharing with the less fortunate. The Lord said that very night his life would be demanded, and who would then own all his riches?
These days they might find a million rolls of toilet paper in our metaphorical “barns.” I’m guessing we probably won’t be allowed to take them with us, even given the popular view of Heaven — as if a gaggle of partying angels had unfurled a shopping cart of extra-fluffy rolls and draped them everywhere.
Complaining, I think, fits under the eighth commandment: thou shalt not lie. Gossip, complaining, these are lies against the truth of God’s love and mercy for us, which we are asked to extend to others.
All of which is to say, as my mother told me more than once many years ago, “Paul, if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
This New Year, perhaps I, unfortunately a member in good standing of our complaining culture, can with God’s help turn a new page, and resolve that if I must carry an attitude, I would do well to make it one of gratitude.
PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a Catholic commentator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes Parish in Germantown Hills. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.