How would Christ like you to be different on January 1, 2019? What contribution could you make to your family, to your school or workplace, to our parish, and to your own salvation by changing or reinforcing a habit during the new year? Let me make a suggestion.
In one of his letters Saint Paul gives his hearers a somewhat unusual command:
Rejoice always. … In all circumstances give thanks, … Do not quench the Spirit.
– I Thessalonians 5:16-17.
In short, Paul tells his hearers to notice that their negativity is damaging God’s work: “Do not quench the Spirit.” He says that their attitude is “throwing a wet blanket” over what the Spirit wants to do. And he wants – commands – them to change this so that the Holy Spirit can do His work.
Paul isn’t a Pollyanna; a few sentences later he tells them, “Test everything; hold on to what is good.” Paul isn’t saying to pretend that faults don’t exist. But he is very clear that a focus on fault-finding will prevent the Gospel and the Spirit from having their proper effects. Good parents know this about how to raise children well: point out (some) mistakes, but don’t damage the child’s growing sense of competency by constant fault-finding. Affirm whenever possible; find what’s good in a flawed performance, and help the child to make it better the next time… That same attitude works well with adults; it’s a shame that we so often put it aside when dealing with (or talking about) one another. Why not make a resolution to change that for the New Year?
And we can help one another to do this. Sometimes people are genuinely unaware of their negative attitudes or style of constant complaining. And all too often groups of people who spend time regularly with one another fall into a pattern and one slightly negative comment opens the door for another – and before anyone is quite aware of it, people feel free to say things they’d never say on their own at the start. What such groups lack is someone to stop the spiral, to make everyone aware of what’s going on.
Maybe we need to give one another permission. How much better would families be if members said to one another, “You have my permission to point out when I’m getting too critical of someone or something.” It would be no small help to each person’s spiritual development – a way of showing that we care. After all, people who are consistently negative are “quenching the Spirit,” and that can’t be good for their souls.
And we also need personal discipline, and perhaps the encouragement of others. So let me make a very practical suggestion: Talk about this column with the other members of your family; encourage one another to resolve, jointly, to care for one another by shifting the style of conversation, if you think that’s necessary, from a “culture of complaint” to a “culture of encouragement.” If you’re in a workgroup or circle of friends that could usefully talk about this, make copies of this column, circulate it, and talk about it. If you’re in a ministry group at Our Lady of Grace that needs to address it, do the same…
Most of us learned about the requirement that, as Christians, we give good example. Probably the most frequent way we do that – or fail to – is in how we speak. This coming year, let’s make a joint resolution to encourage one another, and so to let the Holy Spirit work. Until next week, peace.