Suppose I am at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at my parish, and my pastor decides to discuss The Last Temptation of Christ (the book) during the Homily. He goes into the plot of the book and why he likes portions of it. (Just to pull something out of the air here.)
Later, I am with a friend and tell her about this. I am frustrated, and worry that my children’s education (which I take great pains to make orthodox at home) is in jeopardy. We talk about what to do with this blatant heterodox behavior. Then my friend shares with me a problem she had with my pastor that is related. We talk about her problem, how it relates to mine, and then start moving on to other problems we’ve each had. It’s just between the two of us (and whatever we might share incidentally with our husbands). We know that it’s pretty much stopping with us.
But what did we do? Well, I took part in conversations like this over a period of time. My thought at the time was that I was basically sharing information. I was also venting a bit, and I wouldn’t have denied it then, either. I was glad I wasn’t the only one with problems X, Y, Z with people A, B, C.
Then one afternoon, I was examining my conscience before Confession. I was using the Ten Commandments as a guide.
Thou shalt have no gods before me.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Honor thy father and mother.
Thou shalt not kill. …
When I reached the Fifth Commandment, I initially thought, “Well, obviously I haven’t killed anyone.” But was that true?
An old story popped into my head.
There was an old woman in a small village who was slightly odd in some ways. A man in the village had a quarrel with her, and to take revenge on her he spread a terrible rumor about her. He told a few people his story, and let it take its course.
Later, he felt badly about it, and wanted to set things right. So he approached a wise priest and asked what he should do to fix things. “First,” answered the priest, “you need to go tell everyone you spoke to that you were wrong. Then find everyone that heard the story from someone else, and set them straight, too. When you’ve done that, I want you to write down the story on paper and burn the story up. Take the ashes of what was the story and the set them free on the wind.”
“Father,” the man said, “I understand the first part of your instructions, but what does the paper and the ashes have to do with it?”
The priest smiled gently and answered, “When the ashes have blown away, I want you to collect them all again.”
“That’s impossible!” the man cried.
“And so it is also impossible to completely heal what you have done with your story.”
And I thought of my venting and complaining. And I realized I’d been gossipping.
Sometimes, I let my comments be heard around people who might not have had any other problem with person A, B, C. They might not have known about X, Y, Z, but I made sure they did. And that person’s reputation is forever marred because of what I said. Forever.
Killing someone’s reputation counts as a sin against the Fifth Commandment.
How often do we say something or write something (or blog something) that damages another peron’s reputation for the simple reason that we wanted to get something off our chests? How often do we gossip about someone just because we found someone else who is as interested in it as we are? And how often is it a priest that we do this to?
One thing that I saw a while ago, and I honestly can’t recall where I saw it, was a story about a mystic who saw Christ in a vision. He was lamenting that some people slandered priests, and Jesus said that we should not speak ill even of a priest who is in error. Christ still stands with him at the altar when he offers the Sacrifice of the Mass. (By the way, if that was your post, leave a message in the com boxes about where to find it, please.) As a priest said to me, even a dirty fork will bring the food to your mouth. I believe it was Saint Francis who said that he’d kiss the hands of any priest, even the biggest sinner, because it is the hands of a priest that brings the Blessed Sacrament – the Holy Eucharist – to us. No other can do this. And even a priest who doubts his own faith brings forth this miracle, whether he is sure of it or not.
When we talk about our brothers and sisters in the Faith, especially priests, do we give them the respect they deserve? As priests? No matter how bad we judge their actions to be, we are no better if we gossip about them. Christ still stands at the altar with them as they offer Him to the Father. Let us be careful what we do and say, so as not to become an occasion of sin to others!