Daily Archives: December 7, 2009

Of Good Order and Legitimate Complaints

Cathnews carried a link to this article by Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta: “Take the plank out of your own eye first”. The article is short and merit reading and reflection.

Oddly, it corresponds with a conversation I had yesterday with a priest. We were talking about the merits or otherwise of complaining to one’s bishop about abuses that occur in one’s parish – particularly liturgical abuses. I have often spoken to Australian Catholics who have found this or that regular feature in their parish liturgies extremely grating. They know that these “features” are contrary to the practice and teaching of the Church, but feel powerless to do anything about it. I always suggest speaking to the parish priest. But sadly, this approach more often than not does not bear the desired fruit, for the simple reason that no one likes being corrected. The parishioner just earns the reputation of being “critical”.

Another option (that of which Bishop Manning writes) is to take the matter to your bishop. This simply could end in the same result writ large: now the bishop thinks you are a trouble maker too. OR the bishop might be on your side and take up your case with the parish priest. THAT’S really going to make you popular at church on Sunday, isn’t it?

We all know that as Catholics, we have right to the true teaching of the faith, and the liturgy conducted according to the rites of the Church. But in the end, it is a bit like renting a home. You have rights. You could complain when your rights are not respected – to the landlord/agent or to the Rental Tribunal. But in the end, you put your own housing security at risk by doing so.

I sympathise with Bishop Manning’s expression of distaste for “whinging”. I completely sympathise with his castigation of those who accuse people of all sorts of things anonymously. In some ways, mutatis mutandis, his article could be a guide to how to behave online.

However (and please, this isn’t a “rash judgement”, but an honest question), I wonder about this paragraph:

Perfectionists will always run up against rigidity of mind, narrowness of vision, stoniness of heart. The one who loves good order, uniformity and strict discipline will always be confounded by a spirit which blows where it will. The sheer complexity of human situations means that radical individuals, outlandish prophets, far-sighted visionaries, and non-conformists, will never be regulated like alarm clocks. Our Church will always be riddled with contradictions; will always have a dark side as well as a light side for it is a Church of sinners, the People of God. All people are imperfect and contradictory. To know this we only have to look at ourselves.

I think there is a difference between being a “perfectionist” and being “one who loves good order, uniformity and strict discpline”. Well, perhaps I don’t know about “strict discipline”, but good order and uniformity in the Church are not bad things for which to aim. After all, St Paul tells the Corinthian church (where everything was most definite NOT in order) “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor 14:39). He mentions the importance of “good order” also in Colossians 2:5 and Titus 1:5. He says that “God is not a God of disorder” (1 Cor 14:33) and lists “disorder” among a number of sins in 2 Cor 12:20.

So we can take it that there are some situations of “disorder” that might arise which, even making allowances for human weakness, need to be rectified. The question is, how is it possible for us to bring forward a legitimate complaint, if the mere act of complaining results only in one being “rashly judged” as a “whinger”?

Bishop Manning says he has the solution:

I have a cure: you might simply focus on not complaining. If this approach works it would be wonderful, but it doesn’t. You don’t cure habitual whingeing by focusing on the complaint. Instead, you rise above your whingeing by developing gratitude for what you are, and have. Gratitude is a feeling you get when you recognise just what you have been given by God. This is the most effective antidote to negativity. Whingers have a knack of finding problems just about everywhere.

Well, that’s good advice. And by and large I follow it. Whenever something happens in my parish that I find contrary to the practice or teaching of the Church, I generally keep mum and try to appreciate the good things I receive from my parish community. But the simple result is that, while I might have grown spiritually in practicing silence and gratitude, the abuse continues. Fine for me. My faith is strong enough to handle it. But what of my neighbour whose faith may in fact be negatively impacted by practices not in keeping with the Faith of the Church?

It’s a bit like the saying that “you aren’t paranoid if they really ARE watching you”: you aren’t a whinger if there really IS something to complain about.

Are you?


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