GRATITUDE VERSUS COMPLAINING

As a convert–I was received into the Church in 1996–I will forever be behind the Catholic learning and cultural curve.

I was taught in RCIA, for example, that receiving the Eucharist on either the tongue or the hand was fine. I have always received the Eucharist in my hand, and my feeling has always been I wouldn’t care if I had to receive it on my foot–who am I, that I should be worthy to receive the Body of Our Lord under ANY circumstances?!

Thus, as with so many other intra-Church arguments, I have remained somewhat oblivious of the heated emotion that the issue–tongue vs. hand–engenders.

Meanwhile, during COVID, first our local churches were closed completely here in LA–a dreadful period of a couple of months or so when we could not receive the Eucharist AT ALL.

Then they opened for a month or so. Heaven! Bottomless gratitude!

Then as of a couple of weeks ago, we were again forced to close the doors: however–and big however–we can have Mass outside!

Thus, in my local parish, daily Mass has been held in the narrow but lovely courtyard. We are all masked and appropriately distanced of course. And I, for one, have been moved near tears each time I’m able to go. Again—the abject gratitude. The cognizance of the hard work from the priest, deacons, servers, lecters, the people who set up the chairs, awnings, altar etc that go into making each Mass possible.

Several recent homilies have nonetheless been directed toward calming down and placating the apparently zillions of people who are OUTRAGED that we can’t hold Mass indoors.

I thought, My God, if this is the hardest, most “unfair” thing that’s ever happened to you, your life has been very different than mine. We’re HAVING the Mass for heaven’s sake and the sun is shining, it’s a balmy 75 degrees, the fountain is plashing, the birds are singing, we’re surrounded by Mission-style clay tile rooves and lichen-streaked pale pink stucco walls and royal palm trees and we get to pass the bas relief Madonna and child en route to the altar–I mean come on, people!

Now it appears “they” are even more up in arms because the Archbishop has instructed the priests, in light of COVID, to distribute the Eucharist only in the hand. Huge HUGE outrage, indignation, carping, complaining–again to the point that the priest had to keep us after Mass to explain that COVID IS A COMMUNICABLE DISEASE THAT HAS ASSUMED PANDEMIC PROPORTIONS, that the order had come down on high, and to placating the sensibilities of these tormented folk.

OUTRAGE: I could hear the murmuring on the sidewalk later. “I just came back from Alabama and they can receive on the tongue there.” “I’ve written five letters to Archbishop Gomez.” “Father so-and-so down at [a parish that will remain unnamed] will give on the tongue there.”

Whether receiving on the tongue or in the hand is the more ancient practice is apparently open to debate. And I of course totally get that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is the most essential, most sacred single thing we do as Catholics. I very probably would feel the same way if I’d only ever received on the tongue since childhood.

But that’s not my point here (so please don’t “argue” it in comments). The point for me is that the Church has said receiving either way is acceptable and allowed–that we are RECEIVING THE EUCHARIST–and for me therefore, case closed.

But the deeper point is the phenomenon of complaining: how it corrupts morale; how it forfends all humility.

In fact, after I got done the other day judging those who are not HUMBLE and GRATEFUL like me, I recalled an incident closer to home that put the whole situation in its proper, as usual slightly tragicomic, perspective.

A couple of months ago I’d run into my downstairs neighbor in the back yard, a lovely young wife and the mother of a two-year-old daughter. We exchanged pleasantries and the news of the day and then I started kvetching about the construction noise that is often visited upon our often-in-need-of-repair 1920s Craftsman bungalow.

Really what I wanted, in retrospect, is what we always want when we complain: sympathy. I wanted to commandeer this poor beleaguered woman to MY way of thinking, my concerns, my league–as if fomenting dissatisfaction in my neighbor of our collective living situation was calculated to do anything but make her miserable!

Anyway, she listened patiently for a minute and didn’t much respond.

When I said, “Does the noise bother you?” she looked me in the eye and said, “I guess not as much as it does you. I have other things I worry about.”

I have other things I worry about. Is that not brilliant? For a second, I felt quite put upon and “unseen”–as usual, no-one cares about MY needs, my concerns. No-one understands that I need quiet to do my very important work. But quite quickly I realized that my complaining was actually doing active harm.

Because the thing about complaining is generally other people don’t have the same complaints as you. They have other things–their own things–to worry about, and they’re having the graciousness not to impose them on you.

So our complaining is not only a drag–our complaining also serves to divide. The other person can’t help but judge you as basically shallow (which at the moment is basically true), self-absorbed and someone to be at least a little bit avoided. I mean can you imagine the worries, given the current state of the world in particular, of the mother of a two-year-old child? And how very insignificant and beside-the-point mine must have sounded?

The deepest point is that perhaps never before in our lifetimes have we so deeply been called upon to stay the course, to strive to enter by the narrow gate, to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We don’t do that by complaining. We do it with our presence, our humility, our gratitude, our patient endurance of the many points of contention we all feel at the moment, in and out of the Church.

We do it always, only and forever through the Eucharist. And next time I’m moved to kvetch, I, for one, would do well to remember the price that others have paid–without complaint–in order to receive it themselves.


Servant of God Adele Dirsyté (1919-1955), tortured and martyred in Communist Russia, wrote the prayer book “Mary, Save Us” while imprisoned in Siberia.

Born in Lithuania to parents who were farmers, Adele was the youngest of six children. At college she majored in philosophy, then worked for various youth organizations. Among them was Caritas, which served widows and orphans. She taught German at a girls’ school, leading her students in prayer and retreats.

The Soviet occupation of Lithuania began in 1940. In June 1941, Germany attacked the USSR and soon occupied the Baltic territories. During the Nazi occupation, Adele lived with a woman who was harboring a Jewish girl.

By 1944, the Soviet army had reoccupied the capital city of Vilnius. Adele began participating in a resistance movement that was organizing for Lithuanian independence.

In 1946, she was arrested for hiding a woman who had escaped from the Soviets. She was brought before a tribunal, and sentenced for “counterrevolutionary activities” to ten years in a concentration camp.

Imprisoned for a year in Vilnius, she was then transferred to what would be the first of a series of forced labor camps. She and her fellow inmates hacked trees, moved rocks, and built railways, They also endured bitter cold, poor sanitary conditions, and starvation food rations.

Adele was known for her kindness, faith, and steadfast efforts to console and comfort her fellow prisoners. At Magadan concentration camp, she managed to produce a small prayer book, hand-sewn with cloth covers. Other inmates were encouraged to add their own hand-written prayers as the book made the rounds of the barracks. Originally called: “Prayer Book for Girls Exiled in Siberia,” the little volume eventually found its way to the West and is now known as “Mary, Save Us.”

One day a priest inmate from the adjacent men’s camp arranged for the Eucharist to be brought over and distributed among the Lithuanian women. The guards noticed and, over the coming months, Adele was taken repeatedly to a cold underground cell and beaten. All her teeth were knocked out. Her fellow inmates realized she had been marked for “slow extermination.”

In the fall of 1953 she was held in the punishment cell for a week, then transferred to an unknown location for the winter. She returned to Magadan partially incoherent, with half of her hair torn out, and was moved to the mentally ill ward. Here she refused food, saying “You who work must eat.” She died on September 26, 1955. The cause for her beatification was opened on January 14, 2000.

One detail, from her time before prison, haunts. A former student remarked “She was modest and very quiet… Her lessons were a bit boring.”

Her lessons were a bit boring. How sharply we are reminded that the person marked out by Christ to share his crown is often outwardly ordinary and without special talents.

Her lessons were a bit boring. And within Servant of God Adele Dirsyté burned the heart of a martyr, a queen, a saint.


FRA ANGELICO, ST. DOMINIC AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

23 Replies to “GRATITUDE VERSUS COMPLAINING”

  1. Laura M Knutsen says: Reply

    Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your gift. I’m forever grateful. God seems to recognize just we we need to hear (and read) at just the precise time.

  2. Cynthia Merrill says: Reply

    Thank you for reminding us to be grateful for what we do have instead of even trying to devoutly recognize what we don’t. Our days, when we’re aware, are so full of blessings! I, too, am dismayed by the energy spent debating how we receive Communion when it could be so possible to not receive Him at all. After all, we could be in a Siberian Gulag like Adele Dirsyte (who I was glad to learn about) !
    Thank you for your words of inspiration!

  3. I keep her little book in my nightstand. It helps me keep things in perspective.

    As usual, you have described my “going back to church” experience exactly, right down to your sentence, “In fact, after I got done the other day judging those who are not humble and grateful like me…” I laughed out loud – you just nail it every time! Then I have to repent, ask God for forgiveness, berate myself for never seeming to improve, etc., etc. The Holy Spirit tries his best to remind me to keep silent and offer nuisances up as a way to participate in Jesus’ sacrifice but I too often forget to partake in the abundant graces that are being sent to me.

    Thank you for your wonderful writing and sharing your personal foibles. It’s so encouraging to the rest of us.

  4. 🌻

  5. Teresa Kleber says: Reply

    Thank you, Heather.

  6. Laura M Knutsen says: Reply

    Beautiful Heather. Thank you for sharing your gift of words. And it seems just what I needed to hear (read) to jolt my spirit into the reminder of gratitude. Peace

  7. Patricia Langer says: Reply

    Hi Heather,
    I’m so happy that you are able to have Mass outside. What a relief that must be!
    I’m trying to find a way to share my thoughts about the hand vs tongue issue without causing offence and I hope you will take that to be my intent as you read this.
    The issue is so much deeper than mere complaining (although I imagine that some complaining are doing so because they want what they are used to), or hanging on to ‘the old ways’. It has to do with the Eucharist truly being the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Savior. When the Eucharist is placed on the tongue the entirety of Christ is received from the consecrated hands of the priest to the tongue. When the Eucharist is placed in the hand particles remain – actual particles of Christ are now on the palm which are dusted off or fall to the floor to be stepped on. These particles were once called pearls. We would treat little bits of gold dust with greater care.
    The format under which some, not all of the early church received in the hand was not as it is today where people take the Eucharist, put it in the mouth and walk back to the pew. It was required to receive kneeling then to bow deeply, taking the mouth to the hand.
    Receiving Communion on the tongue is not just a not to tradition but an act of devotion to the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. About 70% of Americans no longer believe in the Presence ( I’m Canadian and sadly I think it is higher here), and therefore receiving in the hand is readily accepted.
    It was Pope Pius Vi who canvassed bishops after Vll when Dutch bishops appealed to have communion in the hand. After much thought and prayer he wrote a long document outlining what this was not possible. At the end of the document he added that under unusual circumstances Communion could be received in the hand. The bishops ran with it and the practice spread across Europe and was eventually brought to North America.
    About hygiene…. priests are much more likely to touch a recipient’s hand ( a much more contaminated surface) than the tongue) therefore it is much safer and reduced the risk of transmission. Priests report accidentally making contact with the tongue perhaps once or twice in the more than forty years they have been serving.
    Also, many Catholics who have chosen to only receive on the tongue, choose not to complain but to make the sacrifice of not receiving at all but rather doing Spiritual Communion. The process for this is available online.
    Finally, i would like to refer you to a video done by John-Henry Westen at LifeSite news titled ‘Five reasons to receive Communion on the Tongue’. You will find it on John-Henry’s YouTube channel or on the LifeSite YouTube channel. It’s a couple of weeks old. I won’t post the link here out of respect for your blog but if you would find it helpful, let me know. I think you will find it to be a well documented and presented piece and i hope you will take the time to watch it. This is an aspect of our faith where very few of us have been well taught.
    I am a cradle Catholic who left the faith right after Confirmation and did not return until midlife. I was shocked at how the church had changed but adapted quickly. Prior to leaving I had only received Communion on the tongue but thought nothing of the ‘new way’. I confess to not taking responsibility for learning the faith but rather jumping in with great enthusiasm, so in love with Christ and the Eucharist was I.
    Heather, I hope you hear my heart in this and my desire to offer you a more full understanding of what has become yet another area of potential division among the Catholic family. Perhaps some day when all of this settles down and choice is restored to us, you will give yourself the experience of kneeling and receiving the Eucharist on the tongue.
    Warmly,
    Patricia

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Hi there, Patricia, thanks for weighing in. As I thought I’d made clear, the point of the piece was the divisive nature of complaining—no matter how justified we feel and no matter how legitimate the complaint may actually be.

      Of course I’m aware of the doctrinaire approach you propose—but the fact is that the Church clearly provides for receiving the Eucharist either by tongue or hand. How wonderful that some of those who have chosen to fast from it rather than receive in the hand, thereby separating themselves from the rest of us, are doing silent Communion. May they pray for the unity of the Church!

      For my own part, to deny my Lord, when he is dying to give himself to me?—that I would not care to answer for.

      Let’s all pray that we’re back to normal soon and that in the meantime, however we receive the Eucharist, we bring Christ’s love out to the world with the kind of forbearance, humility, generosity of spirit and joy that would honor Servant of God Adele Dirsyte.

  8. Kevin Kirby says: Reply

    Dear Heather, thank you for your thoughts on receiving the Eucharist; on the pride (meaning harmfulness) of being judgemental, and the respect to truly listen to others. The sacredness of receiving the Eucharist , if we are aware of the moment we join with Christ, allows us to see who we are and who we can be.

  9. When Jesus spoke to the people He was always outside.

  10. Thank you Patricia. I will never forget the words of a priest who was hoping to encourage the faithful to receive the Body of Christ, the Bread of Angels, on the tongue. When we receive it in our hands we, we do indeed have bits that are left on our hands and swept away onto the floor or our clothing. As opposed to receiving it on our tongue where it Is received without disturbance from Christ.

  11. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Thanks so much all, for your responses and reflections. “Just for today,” as my Al-Anon bookmark reads, “I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, keep my voice low, be courteous, criticize not one bit. I won’t find fault with anything, nor try to improve or regulate anyone but myself.” Pray for us, St. Sharbal Makhluf! Wishing you all a rich and fruitful weekend–

  12. Heather! Thank you for your writing. Your self effacing humor is a balm to the weary spirit. I am spending a week with my recently widowed 92 year old father in law in the midst of family problems—— besides the grief. I needed the perspective about not complaining. Because from my lofty perspective there are things to complain about! 🙂

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Molly, prayers for you and your recently widowed 92-year-old father-in-law “in the midst of family problems.” Accchhh–are we ever truly free of them!? Of course I have to remember half my own family problems have arisen because I’M in the middle of them…on we go, Sister!

  13. Lawrence McDonald says: Reply

    Such a wonderful piece, and helpful, to see complaining as harmful and demeaning to ourselves as well as those undeserving witnesses to our thoughtlessness. I just don’t get the nitpicking
    about delivering communion wafers. My goodness,
    we are so spoiled in this country, many if not most of us. And I’ll never, ever forget that months long stretch when I could not attend mass, watching for announcements, waiting for really good news. Finally, open for daily mass only. It was a Tuesday, 7 am. I’ll never forget that mass, either. And I would care now where mass would be held, how near or far, inside or outside. There’s something off in this country , in attitude , in entitlement which is just part of living. We’re soft, have become so, for countless reasons. Well, this is our chance to turn that around, because we are all getting a free crash course in uncertainty, whether it be sudden waves of serious sickness, or social sickness of mistrust and a dreadful level of public discourse, or regular, sickening outbreaks of violence. Pasternak said God’s greatest gift to mankind is the unforeseen.
    We should be grateful.

    Thanks, Heather

  14. Linda Scuderi says: Reply

    Just a heartfelt thank you for sharing your thoughts. God bless you, Heather.

  15. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Again, wonderful to see and to try to digest all these comments–I myself have been pondering the phenomenon of, and my own unfortunate tendency toward, complaining all week…As Lawrence points out, we’re a culture of entitlement–out of and often in the Church (again, guilty as charged). I often call to mind a favorite Simone Weil quote: “Can anyone imagine St. Francis of Assisi speaking of rights?” …Obedience is another virtue I mean to reflect upon soonish…

    But maybe I’ve most been thinking of Christ saying to us–You worry about the outside of the cup being clean, but I’m concerned with the inside of the cup. Yes, we treasure every drop of Christ’s blood, every last “pearl” of his flesh (and what a beautiful, poetic way to think of it!) But the way we do that most deeply, to my way of thinking, is by our orientation of heart as we receive the Eucharist–which after all can be known by God alone–and then by how fervently and with what purity of motive and heart we bring the Eucharist out to the world, attempt to love our neighbor as ourselves, and try to spread the Gospels to the ends of the earth. That of course is the work of a lifetime…

  16. Sitting in my little white folding chair, gazing through splintered blades of sunlight towards the Eucharist, as the birds sang His praises, I partook of the glorious Mass.
    I had never felt closer to our Lord. If it is true that the enemy is working against us during this time of crisis, the jokes on him because the celebration of the Mass outside can only serve as strength to us when we allow the love of Christ to enter our hearts through His beauteous world!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Julie! Our gratitude at His beauteous world is the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness has not and can not overcome!….

  17. “Because the thing about complaining is generally other people don’t have the same complaints as you. They have other things–their own things–to worry about, and they’re having the graciousness not to impose them on you.”

    That made me think of something from the movie, The Shooting Party, which I first saw many years ago and watched again just the other night. The scene: James Mason’s character is at his desk in his study writing in his journal and his young granddaughter is impatiently waiting for him to finish and pay attention to her. She asks him why he’s always writing and he says because he’s writing down his thoughts and that it is a very good idea to do that so you don’t bother other people with them.

    Great movie, by the way, and Mason was terrific in it.

  18. Thanks for your great insights. I have been falling into a lot of complaining lately and needed that!

  19. I agree with you a lot, Heather. We should be thankful just to receive the Eucharist. Before the shutdown, I went to mass three times a week, two daily masses and one Sunday mass. After receiving the Blessed Sacrament three times a week, it was hard to not be able to. I longed to get to mass more than ever before. Finally, on May 31, Pentecost weekend, I was finally able to receive it. That mass was just as beautiful as Easter or Christmas. The church I attend actually had one outdoor mass a weekend (though indoor masses are allowed.) It was beautiful. Sadly, the heat of the summer has moved the outdoor mass indoors. I am just so thankful I can receive the Blessed Sacrament. Who cares if you can’t receive the Eucharist on the tongue. One does not get extra graces by receiving it that way. Also, I am excited that you wrote about an inspiring Catholic that is Lithuanian since my ancestors are Lithuanian immigrants.

    1. Thank you, Pio Frassati! Beggars can’t be choosers. We hunger for the Eucharist–we need the Eucharist to live. That I should be counted worthy to receive the Body of Christ in any way the Church deems appropriate and acceptable–EVER!–even once in my life!–is an astounding, not-to-be- believed gift. The notion that the Church that Christ established upon Peter should bow to MY demands as to how to receive his Body and Blood–dear Lord! Unthinkable. We are all penitents, supplicants, sinners who, it is to be hoped, are at the back of the church beating our breasts and saying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy…!” The refusal to accept the changes wrought 70 years ago by Vatican II to my mind have no place in such a heart. Servant of God Adele Dirsyte and her story haunt me, challenge me, call me higher. Again, that I should be worthy to be counted a member of the same Mystical Body of which she is a member…She does her country of Lithuania, the human race, and Christ proud. God bless us all and may we all gather around the table…never have we all been needed more.

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