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…