Murmuring in the Wilderness

by Sr Rose Rolliing o.p.

[The sisters of st Catherine's Cambridge are giving a reflection each week at Vespers.  This week Sr Rose reflects on the topic of complaining.]

Do everything without complaining and arguing, that you may be innocent and pure, as God’s perfect children.

Sr Rose preaching at Vespers

One of the most transformative experiences of my life was spending a year as part of a Catholic charismatic lay community. To consecrate the year ahead, I was invited to receive prayer ministry, and asked: what do you want God to do for you this year? What is it that you seek? I responded very intuitively by saying: “I want God to break something inside of me”. I didn’t know what that something was, but I did know that I wasn’t ok with God, and I wasn’t ok in myself, and with some incredulity, I began asking the Lord to help me re-surrender.

Five months later, I found myself in crisis. Surprised and confused by the turn of events, I started complaining: “what is going on, where is God?” The mentor who was accompanying me through this process rebuked me amidst one of my griping sessions and said: “you have been praying for God to act in your life, and now that He’s doing it, you complain”! Her words changed my whole perspective – where I

saw only the falling apart, the loss of my carefully crafted self-control, she saw God’s hand, initiating the deep inner work of rebuilding. It's no wonder St Paul says that our salvation must be worked out with fear and trembling, for to fall into the hands of the living God is a fiery ordeal indeed.   

St Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians to “do everything without complaining” is ultimately a reminder that God always works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). The Israelites had also prayed for God to act powerfully in their lives to deliver them from the oppression of Egypt, and yet when He finally did, they grumbled continuously in the desert. The difficult journey through the wilderness was a necessary part of the formation of God’s chosen people; the cost of making them willing and able to obey His designs. What was unnecessary was the self-inflicted burden brought about by the bad fruit of complaining, which is disobedience – a burden costing them forty years of rootless wandering in the desert.

The Rule of St Benedict says that a monk’s life should be a perpetual Lent, our equivalent to the desert experience. Perhaps because of this, Benedict names ‘murmuring’ or complaining as one of the major temptations of monastic life, the consequence of which keeps us in a state of restless fault-finding – nothing’s right, nothing’s good enough, if only it were different.

St Benedict understood that this attitude was ultimately rooted in our refusal to submit to God’s own purpose – which is our conversion, our vocation, our baptismal call to transformation in Christ.

Pope Francis has a devotion to Our Lady of Silence. This Lent, let us invoke the prayer to Our Lady of Silence, in which we ask, “for the grace of sincere conversion and of stability in my vocation”, let us ask Our Lady to silence the murmuring in our hearts, for then God’s good work in us shall be brought to completion.



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