Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gossip: Cowardice Is Criminal

As a society we seem to be awash with everyone privy to everyone else's business.  And most of what passes for truth is out and out fiction.  All of us have been victimized by this behavior at one time or another in our lives.  Most of the time the gossip is private but now, in this age of information, much of it becomes public.  And while sometimes what we learn about the other person actually has some foundation in the truth, most of those stories are complete lies.  Our attitude about this behavior seems to be sheer indifference.  We ask ourselves what possible difference could a little harmless gossip make and, besides, it is so much fun. Yet, this so called fun is capable of producing great harm and pain to those who are it's target.

In his early morning homily at Mass on September 13, Pope Francis addressed this topic.  The Pontiff in his normal straightforward manner, condemned this activity.  He said that those who engage in gossip, judging and criticizing others, "are hypocrites because they don't have the strength , the courage to look at their own defects."  He used strong language in regards to those who would seek to smear another through gossip and innuendo by calling them criminal.  Putting it in further perspective the Pontiff also noted that such behavior destroyed rather than exalted the image of God present in others.  

In addition, the Pope used even stronger language indicating the kind of people these truly are.  Every time we "judge our brothers and sisters in our heart, and worse, when we talk about it with others, we are killer Christians," imitating Cain who committed "the first homicide in history."

The Pope also pointed out that there is no such thing as innocent gossip.  He even equated the telling of false stories to violence.  "If one of us gossips, certainly he is a persecutor, someone violent."  

Gossip is an assassination of the soul.  It robs he victim of dignity and integrity.  It strips them of their pride and reputation.  In some extreme cases, it even drives some to suicide.  We have all heard of the stories of those individuals who had gossip spread about them through such social media as FaceBook who, as a result of the malicious rumors and talk, took their own lives.  Granted, that these are extreme cases, but in a very real sense, every victim of gossip has their very souls attacked.

Gossip has been a bane of the human existence for as long as humanity has been around.  We are social beings by nature and, as such, are prone to engage in social communication.  When friends get together, for instance, one of the first things brought up in conversation may likely be "have you heard what so and so did?"  Often, after that, the feeding frenzy is on.  The stories take a life of their own on with little tidbits being added here and there by each teller of the tale.

The Apostle St. James warned about the power of the tongue and pointed out that "the tongue is a little member (of the body) and boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!"  (James 3: 5)    He saw the tongue as a remarkable instrument, one filled with constructive potential and destructive capabilities.  "With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing."  (James 3: 9-10)

One of the most ironic things in the world of Christianity is how Christians can sit week after week in their services, praising God and proclaiming themselves to be followers of Christ inspired by he Holy Spirit, and not ten minutes after church meet someone in the parking lot and immediately begin gossiping about the priest or pastor.  Where have they been for the last hour or so?  Where is their Christianity?  Did they leave it in the pews?  Or is that Christianity just another trivial part of their week, something which they can scratch off of their to-do lists and move on to more important things.

The Pope did not end his discussion here.  He went on to offer solutions to the insidiousness of gossip.  Instead of gossiping about others, Pope Francis suggested that we pray for others who may be gossiping about us.  He even suggested that "if it's necessary, speak to the person who can solve the problem.  Don't tell everybody else about it."  To some, this notion is a foreign concept.  Many would either like to keep silent and allow the story to continue to roll merrily along or refuse to talk to the other out of either false sense of superiority or fear for being confronted with the truth.

In addition, in a recent article published in Jesuit magazines throughout the world, the Pope offered this thought.

"I have a dogmatic certainty.  God is in every person's life.  God is in everyone's life. . .Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it has been destroyed by vices, drugs, or anything else, God is in this person's life.  You can, you must try to seek God in every human life."

Maybe, just maybe, rather than resorting to gossip, those who feel compelled to spread false, malicious rumors about others should take the Holy Father's advice and look for God in every life.  He is there and they just might be surprised to find that God is, indeed, in everyone's life.