The title of this post must seem a bit strange. It becomes a bit stranger still when you consider the one telling you not to be a whiner is not me, but Pope Francis!
He said it (basically) during his homily on Tuesday, May 7th, while reflecting on today’s first reading from the Book of Acts, Chapter 16, where Paul and Silas are in prison yet they are joyful, even “singing hymns to God!” Imagine that! Being in prison and yet finding a voice to sing joyfully unto the Lord (cf. Ps 95:1). I know there are plenty of times when I find myself in far less precarious situations than being in prison and I struggle to even pray, much less sing a hymn of praise.
The Holy Father said in his homily (my emphasis added):
“When the difficulties arrive, so do temptations. For example, the complaint: ‘Look what I have to deal with … a complaint. And a Christian who constantly complains, fails to be a good Christian: they become Mr. or Mrs. Whiner, no? Because they always complain about everything, right? Silence in endurance, silence in patience. That silence of Jesus: Jesus in His Passion did not speak much, only two or three necessary words … But it is not a sad silence: the silence of bearing the Cross is not a sad silence. It is painful, often very painful, but it is not sad. The heart is at peace. Paul and Silas were praying in peace. They were in pain, because then it is said that the jailer washed their wounds while they were in prison – they had wounds – but endured in peace. This journey of endurance helps us deepen Christian peace, it makes us stronger in Jesus.”
Not only does Pope Francis say that people who constantly complain can become “Mr. or Mrs. Whiner,” but they “fail to be a good Christian.” Wow! Talk about cutting through all the excess and getting down to the heart of the matter.
But suffering is not something new to God’s people, nor is it news to God that his people suffer. He knows, understands, and acts decisively in the midst of his people’s suffering in order to bring about their good (cf. Rom 8:28). For example, consider God’s intervention on behalf of the people of Israel:
Then the LORD said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Ex 3:7-8).
The Holy Father reminded those at Mass this morning (and by extension all of us) that Christians are to be imitators of him who moves to relieve his people’s suffering and therefore Christians are to act decisively to relieve the suffering of others (cf. Mt 5:48 and Mt 10:8). Consider the following quotation from The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (my emphasis added):
The Church, “since her origin and in spite of the failing of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defence and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere.” Prompted by the Gospel injunction, “You have received without paying, give without pay” (Mt 10:8), the Church teaches that one should assist one’s fellow man in his various needs and fills the human community with countless works of corporal and spiritual mercy. “Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God,” even if the practice of charity is not limited to alms-giving but implies addressing the social and political dimensions of the problem of poverty. In her teaching the Church constantly returns to this relationship between charity and justice: “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”(#184).
One of the things I like most about Pope Francis so far is the simplicity of his language. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy the mysticism in the writings of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the deep theological language employed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but with Pope Francis you don’t have to spend a lot of time wondering what he was saying; you just have to think about how to apply it. In closing, check out this example from his homily today (my emphasis added):
And the Lord invites us to this: to be rejuvenated Easter people on a journey of love, patience, enduring our tribulations and also – I would say – putting up with one another. We must also do this with charity and love, because if I have to put up with you, I’m sure you will put up with me and in this way we will move forward on our journey on the path of Jesus.
Easy to understand…tough to put into practice!