June 17, 2018

As a confessor, as well as a penitent, I know that one of our common struggles as human beings is the sin of gossip. The Holy Father addressed this struggle in his General Audience on June 6th.

The pope is currently giving a series of talks on the sacrament of confirmation, and it is in this context that he said that peace is a gift that can easily be destroyed through petty gossip and speaking ill of others. People who give and receive the sign of peace “should be men and women of peace” and not ruin “the peace made by the Holy Spirit with your tongue,” the pope said.

It is so easy for us to fall into this temptation of speaking ill about others behind their backs – criticizing them and passing along our judgement about them to others. It is so common, and so much a part of many of our lives, that we don’t even think about it when we’re doing it.

There are major publications that thrive on gossip about celebrities. The whole focus of their business is passing on unsubstantiated charges or accusations. The point of gossip is really to tear someone down.

Here is how Webster’s Dictionary defines gossip: a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others; a rumor or report of an intimate nature.

“Gossip is not a work of the Holy Spirit, it is not a work of the unity of the church. Gossip destroys the work of God. Please stop gossiping,” the pope said. Amen! Let’s stop gossiping.

In reflecting on my own experience of gossiping, I realize that it is a real act of cowardice. If I criticize someone behind their back, if I reveal some personal or sensational fact about them, if I pass on a rumor I heard – all of those acts are acts that require no courage at all.

But, if I really come from a place of care and love (the place God calls me to come from), then I will talk with the person face to face and voice my concerns, or check out the facts behind a rumor with them instead of simply passing it along. These personal encounters take courage.

But, such personal encounters with family, friends and coworkers can also serve to create unity, whereas simply gossiping builds walls. Pope Francis urges us to preach the Gospel with deeds and words that “edify and not with words of gossip that destroy.”

When a person comes to the sacrament of penance and confesses gossip, I often give a penance that I use regularly on myself. I ask the penitent to make a conscious effort to say something nice to someone or about someone at least once a day for the next week.

Such kind words can build someone up. The disciplined practice of saying something each day that builds someone up can also create unity and peace.

St. Ignatius of Loyola thought this was such an important issue that he put some ground rules for practicing it right at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius writes, “…it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.” Imagine what our relationships would be like, with those near and far, if we were always striving to put the best possible interpretation on their statements or actions.

We might even find ourselves being the place where gossip stops. I am going to try that this week. Will you join me?

Fr. Gary Lazzeroni