Quit Whining!

The Thirteenth Annual Pilgrimage for Restoration is history. As usual, the 70-mile walk from The Lake of the Blessed Sacrament (a.k.a. “Lake George”) to the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, NY, was as grace-filled as it was blister-ridden. The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary made the pilgrimage in our two customary brigades: St. Joseph’s for men and IHM for women, led by the brothers and sisters respectively.

In addition to praying and singing during the pilgrimage, pilgrims listen to meditations given by their own brigadiers (yours truly for the St. Joseph’s Brigade) or by the good priests who come along to offer Mass and hear confessions. This year, in addition to my own efforts, St. Joseph’s Brigade heard a meditation on confession given by Reverend Father Jared McCambridge, a recently ordained priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter, and one on vocations given by our old friend, Reverend Father Andreas Hellmann, of the Institute of Christ the King. Both priests edified us by their meditations, and our gratitude to them is immense. We had an additional treat when the main pilgrimage organizer, Mr. Gregory Lloyd, joined our brigade for a while. Greg and I began a light conversation that ranged from how our brigade was doing, to Shakespeare, to funny things Leo XIII told the Cardinals in consistory. Appropriately enough for the second day of pilgrimage, the subject of complaining came up. One thing led to another, and I asked Greg on the spot to give our brigade a meditation on the “four rules for complaining.” Happily, he obliged.

What follows is based on my recollections of that mediation we heard somewhere on the road to Auriesville from Lake George. I will assume blame for the mistakes and gratefully give Mr. Lloyd credit for the good parts.

Our Teacher’s Example. When the Eternal Word of God took flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary, He came to us in a triple office of Priest, Prophet (or Teacher) and King. Our Lord’s prophetical role, His role as teacher, was an office He exercised always, not merely when He gave spoken instruction. Every act of Our Divine Lord was “doctrinal”; he taught always, whether by word or example. One example of Christ’s teaching-by-doing is His Agony in the Garden, wherein He taught us about complaining. It is possible to summarize His doctrine in four points, four “qualities” our complaining must have in order to be acceptable to God. Our complaining ought to be 1) about grave matters, 2) stated in few words, 3) shared only with our closest intimates, and 4) spoken in prayer to God.

Grave Matters. Our Lord began His complaint in the Agony with the words, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” Such sorrow – sorrow that could have killed Him – was caused by Christ’s foreknowledge of His Passion. To this was added, we may believe, diabolical taunts about how fruitless all His efforts would be because so many, unbelieving or ungrateful, would be damned anyway. Then there was the thought of how the Blessed Virgin, His own innocent Mother, would suffer. Truly all this sorrow was a grave matter. Our Lord did not complain of His hunger in the forty-day fast in the Desert. He did not complain as He sweat and thirsted passing through Samaria. Neither did He complain when He was accused of being possessed or working miracles by the power of the devil. But He did complain when He was so sorrowful that the mental agony – which caused Him to sweat blood – might kill Him.

Over what trifles do we complain? Hunger, cold, thirst, heat, inconvenience, routine delays, personal contradictions, not getting our own way on the spot, and these usually in a mild form. Do we not frequently complain about such trivial matters and thus lose precious opportunities for uniting our sufferings to Our Lord’s?

Few words. Our Lord’s complaint consisted of a mere seven words: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” He does not dwell on the complaint, as He follows it immediately with an exhortation to His disciples to pray – after which He Himself prays to His Father. It is very difficult when we are disturbed about something, when our pride is wounded or our passions are stirred up, to state our grievances in only a few words. Our tendency is to engage in a verbal outpouring, to go on a wailing soliloquy filled with self-pity and acrid recriminations of our wrong-doers. Contrary to this, Our Lord shows us the example of speech that is controlled, disciplined, to the point. Given the gravity of what was happening, we might suspect that Jesus was understating the case, but He wasn’t. Sorrow so deep as to be deadly is no light claim, and Our Lord complained of it. It is Our Lord’s economy of words that may lead us to think He is not making enough over the misery of His situation.

When we find ourselves with a legitimate complaint, do we follow Our Lord’s example, or do we rather spew forth inflated verbosity to whomever will hear us? The saints imitated Our Lord in His patient sufferings, even to the point of controlling that most beastly part of us: the tongue. If we would be saints, we must master this powerful little member, too.

Only our intimates. Holy Job, that model of patient suffering, had three friends who came to console him in his sufferings. To them, he complained about his hard lot in life. Our Lord chose the same number to hear his complaints. They were His closest Three: Peter, James, and John. They had seen Him Transfigured on Tabor; they, with Andrew, had witnessed his cure of Peter’s mother-in-law; they had seen him raise a little girl, the daughter of Jairus, to life. Of His beloved Twelve, these three were the closest.

There is nothing wrong with having favorites. As long as the law of Charity is observed, there ought to be those who are more intimate and most intimate with us. Among our friends – and Our Lord called all the disciples “friends” – there should be those whom we consider, by their time-tested loyalty, their kind understanding, or other claims to intimate trust, especially worthy of our confidence. While we may have many friends, our complaints – which are precious splinters of our very personal Cross – should be disclosed only to the closest. Chief among them ought to be our confessor or spiritual father.

Are we mindful of the intimate character of poignant suffering, or do we cheapen it by broadcasting it near and far? How many times have we discovered to mere acquaintances and even virtual strangers what should be veiled in mystery? Have we given scandal by our indiscretions on this score, and possibly even earned for ourselves the detestable title, “Whiner” – the veritable hallmark of one who lacks fortitude?

Spoken in prayer. Lastly, we should not neglect to turn complaints into opportunities for a heart-to-heart with God. Our Lord began to pray shortly after making His complaint, and His prayer was with reference to His sorrow: “And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” In the Psalms, King David had given the example of complaining in prayer. Among other things, David complained of the treacheries of his enemies, the treason of his friends, and the hard-heartedness of his people. His most bitter complaint – and it is a prayer – is Psalm 21 , which is prophetical of the Man of Sorrows Himself. Indeed, Scripture commentators tell us that this Psalm is not merely prophetical; it is unique in that it applies literally to Our Lord and only by analogy to King David in his sufferings. Having inspired the Royal Psalmist to “complain well” in prayer, Our Lord used this Psalm on the Cross: “why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 21:1).

In the Garden and on the Cross, Our Lord was the model of “prayerful complaint.” Do we realize that our Teacher has shown us how to pray, or is His example wasted on us? Have we learned from our Divine Teacher by bringing our own complaints to prayer? It is in prayer – liturgical prayer, private prayer, vocal prayer with others, etc. – that we enter into intimate communion with the Blessed Trinity. Do we believe that God is interested in our affairs, or are we practical deists who live as if God is only watching us from a distance?

There you have it. I understand from Greg that he owes these thoughts to Father James Groenings’ book, The Passion of Jesus .

On the road to Auriesville, many families participate in what is called the “modified pilgrimage,” accompanying the other pilgrims partly on foot, partly by car. One night during dinner, I overheard the mother of one of these families talking to her small child. “If you don’t quit whining, you won’t get anything!” she said.

Leave it to a mother to make the whole thing so simple!