“Put away…all slander.” – Ephesians 4:25

“I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” Taken from bp.blogspot.com

I love reading St. Maximus the Confessor in the Eastern spiritual anthology, the Philokalia. Such rich and challenging material. Here’s one line that caught my eye today:

When the demons see us learning the way of detachment, so as not to hate men and fall away from love, they then incite slanders against us, hoping that, unable to bear the hurt, we will come to hate those who slander us … To the extent that you pray from your soul for the one who spreads slander about you, God will reveal the truth to those who were told the slander.

This quote made me think of a close cousin of slander — detraction, which we more commonly refer to as gossip. The Catechism describes detraction as “without an objectively valid reason, disclosing another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.”

This brought to mind two pieces of advice my spiritual director gave me almost 20 years ago. There was a situation that had caused me a lot of pain, and I found myself indiscriminately sharing very negative information about a certain person for no other reason than to let off steam, find company for my misery and make myself feel better by making them look worse. After very honestly confessing this sin, my director said,

Remember what Jesus said, “There’s nothing said in hiding now that won’t be revealed, nothing hush-hush that won’t one day be shouted from rooftops” [cf Luke 12:2-3]. So always speak with that in mind. One day everyone will know everything you say, so live in the light all the time.

During his post-confession counsel, he calmly added this little detail, “For every minute of gossip, I want you to offer ten minutes of prayer for those you speak ill of.” Next time he asked me what effect his penance had had on me. I said, “I’ve learned to pray more for forgiveness, I’m better at holding my tongue and I keep my gossip very brief.”

Progress is progress.

If Pope Francis had been Pope back then, my director would probably have quoted him to me:

The sickness of chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren. It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs.

Tomorrow’s Lent. It all begins…

8 comments on ““Put away…all slander.” – Ephesians 4:25

  1. Kathy says:

    Tom — You have left me speechless (and you know what an achievement that is!). I am always amazed at your ability to bring me, sometimes gently sometimes not, to a greater understanding of my faith. You make me think and I appreciate it more than words can tell.

  2. Pam H. says:

    May I beg to differ, that it is cowardice that leads to detraction? In my experience, no matter how mild-manneredly one complains about what another person is doing, they will take offense. I estimate fewer than one-third of the people will take offense but be willing to make minor modifications to their behavior, albeit begrudgingly. Another third will make no changes to their behavior. And the last third will commit the offense even more. Even prayerful Christians will usually take offense if their faults are pointed out.

    I think it is a form of vengeance born of frustration from powerlessness (and we are powerless in many, if not most, things) that leads to detraction. But we are forbidden to take revenge.

    Better, to use the pain of others’ offenses as atonements for one’s own faults, or offer them for the conversion of the one who does them, or in atonement for sins in general, throughout the whole world. Not to do this betrays a lack of faith. Of which I, too, am guilty. Lord, increase our faith!

    • Your different perspective illustrates how diverse can be the reasons for our drive to gossip and detract and slander. To me it does not obviate the Pope’s analysis, but fills it out more. Thank you for adding your thoughts. May He increase our faith as you say!

  3. Rosary Maker says:

    Once after a confession on a different matter, I was told three things – 1) listen first 2) respond only if NEEDED using as few words as possible and 3) be quiet. This has been invaluable advice regarding gossip. By listening first, I can tell if someone is speaking constructively and cut them short if it is going down the gossip track. Frequently a short response keeps me from traveling the wrong road and if I am quiet the “fun” of the gossip has stopped. I have noted that so many times gossip is wordy and elaborate. Silence is the perfect response.

  4. Laura T. says:

    Such a thought-provoking post! As the mother of two school-age children (at a Catholic school), I am slapped in the face with and surrounded by gossip and slander on a daily basis. The temptation is strong to join in, I sometimes succumb to temptation, and it is a constant struggle to swim against that tide.
    I love your Spiritual Director’s advice: “For every minute of gossip, I want you to offer ten minutes of prayer for those you speak ill of.” What a better world this would be if we all tried this approach. I know I’m going to!

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