If you are in Rome on any given Sunday, you may know that you can make your way to Saint Peter’s Square to hear the Holy Father address the crowd before he leads the Angelus at noon. The addresses are usually given in Italian, and they are typically a brief reflection on the Gospel of the day. These remarks by the Holy Father are quickly translated into Arabic, English, Spanish, French, Polish, and Portuguese and made available on the Vatican website. In the Holy Father’s address last Sunday, August 29th, with the Gospel as his springboard, he talked about the hypocrisy of complaining and blaming others.
Pope Francis highlights the danger of being overly external in our focus rather than internal—looking at others rather than looking at ourselves. He goes on to reflect that this outward focus is detrimental to an accurate perspective of reality and is detrimental to our happiness. Pope Francis says:
“We often think that evil comes mainly from the outside: from other people’s conduct, from those who think badly of us, from society. How often we blame others, society, the world, for everything that happens to us! It is always the fault of ‘others’: it is the fault of people, of those who govern, of misfortune, and so on. It seems that problems always come from the outside. And we spend time assigning blame; but spending time blaming others is wasting time. We become angry, bitter and keep God away from our heart. Like those people in the Gospel, who complain, who are scandalized, who cause controversy and do not welcome Jesus. One cannot be truly religious while complaining: complaining poisons, it leads you to anger, to resentment and to sadness, that of the heart, which closes the door to God.”
In these troubling days when we are confronted with innumerable difficulties and tragedies world-wide, so that the darkness seems to be pressing in (and no doubt the Holy Father is more acutely aware of this than any of us), the words of the Pope ring so true! How easy it is to look around and bemoan the evil that seems to be everywhere. And yet without denying that there is evil afoot, there are more constructive things we can do with our energy than just complaining and blaming, starting with an honest evaluation of our own contribution to the difficulties, problems, and darkness of our time.
“Let us ask in prayer for the grace not to waste time polluting the world with complaints, because this is not Christian,” is the practical advice from the Pope. And he goes on to drive home the point, “If we look inside ourselves, we will find almost all that we despise outside. And if, with sincerity, we will ask God to purify our heart, then indeed we will be starting to make the world cleaner. Because there is an infallible way to defeat evil: by starting to conquer it within yourself.”
The age-old question about evil in the world receives a practical answer in this Angelus address. There is an infallible way to defeat evil, there is something practical and effective we can do in the face of bad news and dark times: We can conquer the darkness in ourselves!
As I prepare for confession this week, I will keep the Holy Father’s admonition close at heart—less complaining, more contrition.