When and how we are allowed to complain

February 16, 2022 • 3 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 177
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

It was his opinion that when we complain, however justly, a certain amount of self-love is always at the bottom of the complaint, and that a habit of grumbling is a positive proof of our being too tender of ourselves and too cowardly.

After all, of what use are complaints? They do but beat the air and serve to prove that if we suffer wrong it is with regret, with sadness, and not without some desire of revenging ourselves. An ungreased wheel makes the most noise in turning, and in like manner, he who has the least patience is the first to grumble.

We must remember, however, that all men deceive themselves. Those who complain do not mean to be considered impatient. On the contrary, they tell you that if it were not this particular thing, they would speak and act differently; but that, as it is, if God did not forbid vengeance they would assuredly take it in the most signal manner. Poor Israelites! really brought out of Egypt, but yet still hankering after the leeks and garlic of that miserable country! Truly such feebleness of mind is pitiable, and most unworthy of a soul avowedly consecrated to the service of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

It is not that we are absolutely forbidden to complain under great sufferings of body or mind, or under great losses. Job, the mirror of the patient, uttered many complaints, yet without prejudice to that virtue which made him so highly esteemed by God, and renders him famous in all ages. It would not only be unwise, but possibly a sin, so to conceal bodily suffering—under the pretext of being resolved not to complain—as to refuse to have recourse to either physician or remedies, and thereby to risk bringing ourselves down to the gates of the grave.

Even God, the All-Perfect, does not refrain from pouring forth His complaints against sinners, as we know from many parts of Holy Scripture. We must then in this matter preserve a just medium, and although it behoves us sometimes to suffer in silence, yet at other times we must make known our sufferings, since that suffering is truly the most wretched which, amid torments, has no voice.*

The Son of God, the pattern of all perfection, wept and cried aloud at the grave of Lazarus and on the Cross, showing that He pities our sufferings and shares our griefs. The measure of our complainings must be fixed by discretion, which St. Anthony calls the regent and ruler of the kingdom of virtues, appointed to guard it from the encroachments of sin, ever striving to gain dominion there.

Our Blessed Father gives us the following lesson on the subject:

We must abstain from a but little noticed, yet most hurtful imperfection, against which few people guard themselves. This is, that when we are compelled to blame our neighbour or to complain of his conduct, which should be as seldom as possible, we never seem to get done with the matter, but go on perpetually repeating our complaints and lamentations; a sure sign of irritation and peevishness and of a heart as yet destitute of true charity. Great and powerful minds only make mourning about great matters, and even these they dismiss as quickly as possible, never giving way to passion or fretfulness.

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