The Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
It seems the gossip mongers are once again at work among us, spreading their lies and falsehoods to all who will listen. Their wicked and forked tongue “is a grub which taints the most beautiful of the flowers and upon them leaves behind it the disgusting trace of its own slime" [Saint John Vianney, in Sermons of the Cure of Ars, Una Morrisy, trans. (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1995), 37].
Perhaps you have heard the latest word that someone heard from someone who works in the Chancery. In case you have not, the rumor is that St. Patrick Parish in Girard will soon be closed. This is a bold-faced lie and those who spread this rumor are gossips and liars themselves.
I do not know what possesses someone to begin such a lie. Nor do I understand how someone could hear such a tale – without any real evidence and having heard nothing from their Pastor or from their Bishop – could, first, believe such a rumor and, second, themselves spread it further about.
Saint John Vianney, that great model of priestly zeal and ministry, once wisely observed this about such gossips:
…the great bulk of malicious talk is done by people who are simply irresponsible, who have an itch to chatter about others without feeling any need to discover whether what they are saying is true or false. They just have to talk. Yet, although these are less guilty that the others – that is to say, than those who slander and backbite through hatred or envy or revenge – yet they are not free from sin. Whatever the motive that prompts them, they should not sully the reputation of their neighbor (ibid., 30).Perhaps those who have such ample time on their hands – or, as the case may be, on their tongues – ought to devote themselves instead to more prayer and greater works of penance.
Some will say, “But I heard it from my very good friend.” I ask you, Do you really want to keep among your friends a gossip and scandalmonger? How good is a friend who lies to your face? Such a one is not worthy of your friendship. We are taught in the pages of Scripture, “He who goes about gossiping reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who speaks foolishly” (Proverbs 20:19)
What good comes from gossip? Does it really benefit anyone? It is my firm belief that the fastest road to hell – to “the resurrection of condemnation” – is paved with gossip (John 5:29). Listen again to the words of the heavenly patron of priests:
It is my belief that the sin of scandalmongering includes all that is most evil and wicked. Yes, my dear brethren, this sin includes the poison of all the vices – the meanness of vanity, the venom of jealousy, the bitterness of anger, the malice of hatred, the flightiness and irresponsibility so unworthy of a Christian . . . . Is it not, in fact, scandalmongering that sows almost all discord and disunity, which breaks up friendships and hinders enemies from reconciling their quarrels, which disturbs the peace of homes…? How many united households have been turned upside down by one evil tongue, so that their members could not bear to see or speak to one another? And one malicious tongue, belonging to a neighbor, man or woman, can be the cause of all this misery (ibid., 30-31).This is why, dear friends, we must avoid gossip and scandalmongering lest we hear or speak it, for the Lord hears the prayers of those who cry out to him “from lips without deceit” (Psalm 17:1).
Indeed, if one goes about spreading gossip, lies and deceit, can one really claim to be a child of the Most High God? The Lord Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) – came among us to gather us together again into the joy of God’s kingdom. It is Satan – “the father of lies” (John 8:44) – who comes among us to scatter and divide.
Pope Saint Gregory the Great encouraged priests to admonish those who sow seed of discord in these words:
…surely those who disturb [the peace] are the children of Satan. All those who by discord cut themselves off from the sap of love, become withered branches… Therefore, let the sowers of discord weigh well how manifold are the sins they commit. In perpetrating one single iniquity, they root out all virtues from the human heart. And since nothing is more esteemed by God than the virtue of charity, nothing is more desired by the Devil than its extinction. He, then, who sows discord and thus destroys charity in the neighbor, serves God’s enemy, as if he were his familiar friend. For he takes away from the hearts he wounds that virtue by the loss of which the Devil fell, and cuts from them the path by which they rise up.The evil of gossip is insidious and immensely poisonous to the soul [Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, in Ancient Christian Writers, Vol. 11, Henry Davis, trans. (New York: New York, Newman Press, 1950), III, Chapter 23, Admonition 24].
You know as well as I do how prevalent it is in this community and it is not simply because “this is a small town.” Gossip has no place in the Christian life because it violates love and spreads lies. It betrays a certain arrogance and pride of both the one who speaks and the one who listens to it. Gossip encompasses a great many sins.
Gossip must stop and in order for it to stop each of us must first recognize that we all do it from time to time, though some more frequently than others. With this in mind, I suggest three simple ways to know if one is a gossip:
1. If you have ever begun a sentence saying, “I’m not a gossip but…” you are indeed a gossip.If we do not know the facts, we should nothing. If it only concerns someone’s faults, we should say nothing. If a person does not have a right to certain information, we should say nothing. If it does not concern us, we should say nothing.
2. If you find that you talk about other people more than your family and close friends, you are a gossip.
3. If you talk with people about things that have nothing to do with either of you, you are a gossip.
Before we open our mouths, we ought to ask this question: “Will what I am about to say be helpful in the journey to heaven?” If it will, good, say it. If not, keep your mouth closed and you will not hinder someone from attaining to “the resurrection to life” (John 5:29).
Why do we gossip and talk about each other in such ways? Why do we hold our grudges so tightly and close to us? Why do we so enjoy focusing on the faults of others and shy away from examining our own faults? It can only be because we do not fully believe in the resurrection of the dead or in eternal life. If we did, we would seek to avoid all that keeps us from the resurrection to life.
Rather than condemning each other and spreading such gossip, rumors and lies, we ought to help each other follow Jesus Christ. Love should flow out of our lips, not hate and deceit.
For this to happen, it may well be necessary to show their sin to our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we have to reprimand them and help them turn from their sin. When someone gossips in your presence, do you correct them and remind them of the commandment against lying and against murder? What good does your silence do them? It surely will not lead them a conversion of heart. By our silence we only allow greater evil to be done.
If we truly love our brothers and sisters we will want only what is good for them. And if what truly want only what is good for them, we will seek to lead them from the darkness of sin to the luminous glory of Christ Jesus.
“May the Lord direct [our] hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ” that we may live forever with him (II Thessalonians 3:5)! Amen.