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What you may not realise is how much I can see when in ‘normal’ times I stand up to preach at one of the Sunday Masses. From that spot on the sanctuary I can pretty much see all of the church. It is encouraging to see most of the faces looking in my direction when I begin to speak, it is interesting to see what some people are reading, it can be amusing to see what some of the children get up to (especially behind parents backs) and it can be fascinating to see people’s facial reactions to comments I make. And you might have thought we didn’t notice!

I was reminded of this the other day when I heard someone say, in an exasperated tone, “Will you stop moaning!” I was reminded, because last year I started one of my Sunday morning homilies with the question; “So let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a good moan?”
A few nodding heads, more than one couple glancing at each other and some muted nervous laughs was the initial response. But out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple slightly turn to each other, a small smile, a hand held out and grasped by the other and the word sorry mouthed, all in a couple of seconds.

I don’t know what had happened before that, I don’t want to know what had happened, but it looked as if the Holy Spirit had found a way of intervening in that private moment. I felt very privileged to have seen God at work.

But back to the question, why is it that we like to have a good old moan so often? Is it because it relieves stress and helps us cope with the world around us? If so isn’t that a good thing? I guess the answer lies in whether or not our moaning improves the situation or helps someone else. If it doesn’t, then it is likely that it will be doing harm.

So, what is there really to moan about – the list is probably endless. However it probably falls into a couple of categories. Is it the sort of things that just annoy us because it isn’t what we exactly want at that moment, It’s raining! the car needs de-icing! I forgot my mobile phone! why can’t I ever find the important bit of paper I put down 5 minutes ago!
Or is it because we aren’t able to control a situation that is having an impact on our lives as we want it to be? How much money I don’t have to pay for all the things I want! I have to go to work, or be somewhere else to where I’d rather be! I have to wait whilst someone else is attended to!
Or again, is it because we simply have to accept something that we can’t change, an illness, the loss of a job, the death of a relative – all things that happen to everybody at some point in either their life, or the life of those closest to us.

At times having a moan can help us to let others know how we feel, it can help to express our emotions and it can be a release for our frustrations. But the one thing that a moan generally isn’t, is positive. The other thing about a moan is that someone else usually has to listen to it! And it will often make them feel bad too.

However, as I see it, there can actually be a couple of occasions when moaning can be a positive opportunity for us, but it depends on our attitude.
Firstly, when I’m aware that I’m moaning, I need to make it a self-imposed condition that the moan has to have a positive outcome. “This room is a mess – I’m going to tidy it up!” “I don’t think the readers at Mass are very good – I’m going to lead by example!” or, “It’s terrible that some people are lonely in their own homes – I’m going to take the time to befriend a neighbour!” and, “The council, government etc.. should – I should!”

Secondly, I have to ask myself, Where does trust in God come into this? If moaning is about sharing the most important things in my life with those in my life, surely it should be part of my prayer. Compline, or Night Prayer of the Church, encourages a period of reflection for the day just lived, often referred to as an Examination of Conscience. This is a good opportunity for us to offer to God our moans, asking for His help to put them into perspective and action.

As we reflect on what is going on around us, we have a chance to see negative or positive in most situations. Letting God into these is positive, and if I am a person who moans a lot can this be a chance for change?

Let’s then make use of an opportunity to turn moans about bad, into means for doing good.

Deacon Ian Black

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