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Fr. Glenn: I Have Sinned

on October 29, 2017 - 8:36am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

As most know, we Catholics have the sacramental rite of penance, or “confession”, of sins, asking God for the forgiveness of sins through the mediation of priests. The rite begins with the words, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”

And so … bless me, my brothers and sisters, for I have sinned...

Well … now that I have your attention! Isn’t it strange how we are drawn to scandal and controversy so strongly? I’d bet that even people who have never read my weekly column did a double-take, and are at least perusing the first few lines this time ... perhaps with a bit of disappointment at the lack of controversy?

Our first reaction tends to be: “Oooo … are salacious details in the offing? Is dirt about to be had?” After all, scandal is the very lifeblood of many a weekly supermarket periodical, and rocket fuel for the ratings of “news” networks. Why such a fascination regarding the faults of others? It’s not as if mud-slinging particularly aids ourselves in anything, and so why are we drawn to hearing it? We surely don’t enjoy it when we are the target!

The root of such fascination lay in pride, I think. We like to compare ourselves to others and to believe about ourselves: “See! I’m so much better than that (often celebrated) person. I would never do such a thing!” … until we DO do it, which is not infrequently the case, and then fall under the “remove the log from your own eye first” admonition of Jesus (Matthew 7). We are quite ready to justify our own faults, and yet even quicker to condemn even the slightest (perceived) faults of others.

Insecurity and pride seem to be motivations for gossip, as well as, perhaps, a bit of vicarious participation in illicit activity? We tear down others to secure our own (false) elevation, and also for the self-perceived notoriety of being the one “in the know”—the attention given in being “the source”. But in doing so, are we not in reality tearing ourselves down even more so, and manifesting our own insecurities and lack of character by lack of charity, and even common courtesy? We gossip about individuals, families and co-workers, and when in the company of the like-minded, tearing down others can become a team sport…not unlike bullfighting—inflicting numerous wounds, drawing blood … until the final thrust of the sword for the kill.

Perhaps St. James has the best description of gossip in scripture: “…the tongue is a fire…an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body…no human being can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 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. My brethren, this ought not be so.”   (James 3:6-10)

There are three general categories of gossip:

1) Rash judgment—assuming as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

2) Detraction—without valid reason disclosing another’s faults and failing to persons who did not know them; and

3) Calumny, or slander—remarks contrary to truth, harming the reputation of other and giving occasion for false judgments. 

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, these typically are considered to fall under the 8th Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” But one need not be Jewish or Christian to see the damage that such talk can easily cause.

All of us experience temptations to the selfish, to self-glorification and even to evil. Our character, however, is manifested not by the absence of such temptations; quite the contrary.  Rather, character is defined by how we handle temptations to evil, to the contemptible, to the despicable. In times of temptation, regard it as opportunity to exercise self-control focused toward charity. Recall St. Paul: “I can do all things in [Christ] who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13), and as I often quote: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength...” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Too often we plead an inability to resist temptation when no such inability exists; it simply requires a not unreasonable exercise of self-command.

We’ve all probably suffered betrayal by gossip, know the pain of it, and have witnessed the damaged caused by it. As is so often the case, scripture describes it quite eloquently: “The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen because of the tongue.” (Sirach 28:17-18)

So let us be determined in our efforts to avoid gossip, turning conservation to the good and to that which is edifying rather than to the destructive, remembering: “Never repeat a conversation, and you will lose nothing at all … Let it die with you. Be brave! It will not make you burst!” (Sirach 19:7-10) … because, as Our Lord affirms and as we witness in life: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters!] dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)