Dissatisfaction

Saint Augustine said it so well:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

The quality of dissatisfaction is nothing to purge or shy away from, a spiritual director of mine once commented. Indeed, if a Christian slogs through the present world and finds it mostly agreeable, it could be said something is amiss with that person’s faith.

Gavin thought my post on Jeffrey Tucker’s channeling of Damian Thompson reactionary. Of course it was. A fluff piece: I have no problem admitting it. The best post of the day was Neil’s on Theology and Science.

There are many aspects of dissatisfaction in the world. Not all of it is spiritually based. An athletic team performs below expectations, therefore fans and perhaps players exhibit frustration. My daughter doesn’t get the pets fed before we leave in the morning, so later in the day the cats and I might share a yowl. A politically minded person is frustrated with her or his political opponents or even allies when things, it seems, are heading in the wrong direction.

For many internet Christians, dissatisfaction resolves its dissonance in attempts to tell the truth. Church music is more impoverished than it should be. I can make a difference where I serve. If others listened to me, they could make a difference, too. Sometimes, the dissatisfaction wallows in its own dissonance: the bishops have deceived us; my career would be in jeopardy if I spoke out as I should; the greedy publishers have it in for us.

Being dissatisfied isn’t extraordinary. It is human; very human. What, then, marks the difference for a dissatisfied believer? A passage in Robert Barron’s The Strangest Way seems very apt to me, as he discusses truth-telling, channeling another fine Christian thinker:

John Shea formulated a principle in this regard that is as helpful as it is difficult: criticize someone precisely in the measure that you are willing to help the person deal with the problem you have raised. If your commitment to help is nil, you should remain silent; if your willingness to help is moderate, your critique should be moderate; if you are willing to do all in your power to address the situation with the person, speak the whole truth. This is not unrelated to Aquinas’s point about relating anger to justice: one could be perfectly right in one’s criticism, but morally wrong if that critique is not made in the real desire to ameliorate the problem.

A few pages later, Fr Barron relates more of the wisdom of Augustine. A sign in the saint’s dining room read, “If you speak ill of your brother here, you are not welcome at this table.” If Augustine heard his guests complaining or gossiping about another person, a gesture to the sign was the remedy.

Is dissatisfaction a gluttony for us, that we take time to stuff our mouths with it, relishing the sensation, and telling ourselves it is a necessary witness, as we pat ourselves on the back for our wit and our outrage?

I know many Catholics who mine the fruits of dissatisfaction in the way John Shea suggests, doing all in their power to address the problem of poor music and unsatisfactory liturgy. Sometimes it involves a personal commitment to prayer. Sometimes it involves learning and musical experience on their part. Often it involves a significant commitment of time, something more than a year or two as a choir director. Usually, it involves giving good example, perhaps even confronting the truths about one’s own life and working a remedy for one’s own deficiencies.

So sure, the Lord made a whip of sorts out of cords and drove the moneychangers from the temple. But he did so against the backdrop of a greater witness: his willingness to speak with sinners, eat with sinners, and even choose his discples from among the sinners. He lived an example of astounding gentleness in a time of great brutality. He seemed to inspire great courage, tenacity, and love among people who seemed to have little enough going for them. He didn’t seem to be daunted by their failures. He confronted them, here and here, for example, and it seems his followers moved on without an unforgiving airing out of dirty laundry.

My point is this: be cautious about the incautious who have expressed themselves with bitterness. If you see it coming from me, be doubly cautious. It is good to feel dissatisfaction, but the real test is using the feeling as a tool, as a means to greater unity with the mission and will of God.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Dissatisfaction

  1. Kevin in Texas says:

    Todd, this reflection ties in very nicely with something I’ve been praying about for the past few days and meditating on today in light of the feast day of St. John Vianney: we must strive to ask God to turn our hearts first and foremost to Him, to provide us with the grace we need to experience a continual interior conversion towards His Word and His Son. The more we do this and the less we complain and argue about liturgical disagreements, ecclesiology, etc., the better witnesses we can become for Christ.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Fran says:

    Oh my – you have knocked me over with this one. Much to pray with and to ponder.

    Social media and contemporary culture allow for a huge complaint space… it is a very powerful and a very Catholic notion for ongoing transformation to happen as a result.

    This all seems so fundamental, but it is so well put here and clear, when it typically is not.

    Thank you.

  3. jeffrey says:

    Very beautifully written.

    For the record, I liked your post on Damian because I like to know what you think.

  4. Indeed, provocative, compelling post. It seems so many of my internet friends, my family members and personal friends are simultaneously in a weird “funkdom” of late.
    But, I want to say that not everyone bobbing awash in the seas of dissastisfaction over lit/mus issues wouldn’t positively step up to the plate, go the extra mile, if provided an opportunity that is generally reserved for those with the bully pulpit built into their job descriptions. Like presidents, priests, pastors…..
    Over at MS in the Five Questions thread I offered as how
    “What’s really an underlying and compelling notion to me is that I believe would that any number of bishops scattered around this great land would simply ask the locally acknowledged clerical and lay “experts” in these matters to initiate local academies within their sees on a VOLUNTEER BASIS(!), and then said “jump!”- most of us would say “How high?” in less than a heartbeat’s time.”
    I know you walk the talk. I hope you know that there are many of us with divergent philosophies to yours, that do likewise and aren’t just talking heads or divas.

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