One of my favorite stories is about my Aunt who I visited in Italy while I was a college student. She was elderly and very depressed. She would sigh a lot. You could feel the heaviness that she carried even in the words and thoughts she uttered. She saw the down side of everything. When she found the negative, she was almost relieved for she would not be fooled into putting her hopes in something that would ultimately disappoint her.
After a few days living with her, I was more than ready to move on! After breakfast, before taking my leave of her, I noticed a beautiful canary in a cage in her kitchen. Trying one last time to cheer her up I remarked, “Auntie, what a beautiful bird you have!” Without missing a beat, she responded with a sigh, “Yes, but he doesn’t sing!” At that, I gave up and left the house, continuing on my journey!
In fairness to my Aunt, I must add that she may have been struggling with a case of the illness of depression which needs to be treated by medication. This did not cross my mind at the time, but it may have been true.
Nevertheless, for our purposes in this reflection, let us assume that it was a rut she was in that was able to be corrected by changes in attitude and the appreciation of things. It has been my observation that many times we can get stuck in negativity and get trapped in the swamp of complaint that does not cause us to move forward and, in fact, can create a climate of stagnation, not only for the individual, but also for the small community around the person.
The reason why this is such a quagmire is that complaint is another word for complacency. Why do anything or hope for anything if everything will always come out the way the things are now or even worse? Complaint is its only reason to be. People who live a life of constant complaint give up on growth and progress. While there is a healthy complaint that leads to corrective action, the kind of complaint I am speaking about is a habitual complaint that defines the person’s stance toward reality. Unfortunately, this is becoming the culture in which we live. It is a closed system that does not admit of change or betterment. It has a fundamentally flawed perception that things can’t be better and that one’s only choice is to accept this situation as definitive and unchangeable. Connected to this is a deeply depleted view of the human person as helpless and unreformable, which is manifestly untrue to the Gospel message of Christ to repent. If change is not possible, then why call us to repent?
This is an excessively passive view of reality. Things happen to us and we have no power to change any part of our lives. In this view, what you experience now is to be ceaselessly repeated, leading to a kind of cynicism in which nothing good can truly happen and that all one can do in life is complain about things. When disaster strikes and a person makes a lamentable and serious sin or mistake, then no reform is possible. There can be no second chances. The evil action was, in a sense, expected and proves that this person cannot be trusted; and even beyond this, trust is a stupid action which is ridiculous since no one can truly be trusted.
At the very basis of this stance on reality is an unchangeable sadness that change and even redemption is not possible. One can plainly see how depressing this attitude can be. But, like a virus, it has infected our daily lives in a culture that does not exalt the human person as a creation of God and as someone who is capable of change and betterment and who always has a chance to grow even after extreme failures. There are no second chances in today’s tabloid world. Our world looks eagerly for signs of weakness; then attacks with ferocity that weakness, hounding and shunning those individuals. In a world in which sex is considered an almost ultimate value, the failures in this area are considered the most mortal; and, in a world without salvation or a redeemer, they become unforgivable. No second chances are allowed.
This runs in contrast to the Church’s teachings that sees forgiveness and rehabilitation as possible for everyone with the strength of Christ’s grace. Our way of life and its moral strictness is, in the end, much more open to change and redemption than the world’s two-faced pessimism: do whatever you like sexually, but if you trip off one of the modern world’s favorite issues (as evidenced in the inquisition we call the ‘modern free press’), you will be shamed and hated forever!
The way forward is to trust the age-old wisdom of the Scriptures set forth clearly by the Church’s teaching. It is hard and difficult, but in the end it gives life and, even if we fail at it, Confession, repentance and a new life is always possible, no matter the sin.