March 17, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

During Lent, practice silence to avoid ‘sins of the tongue’

I received a Christmas card from someone in Texas with a letter enclosed. I recognized that the name had Jasper, Ind., origins. The content of the letter suggests a good topic for our reflection as we try to freshen up our call to holiness during Lent.

The message is about my deceased mother. If she were alive, there is no way I would be permitted to print it. But I do so because it echoes my experience of my mom, and it is a timely message for Lent.

“For several years, I have been wanting to send you a note and share with you some beautiful memories that I have of your Mother. When I was young, I was a hairdresser at Cora’s Beauty Shop in Jasper. … I was privileged to have the opportunity of meeting your Mother and to hear her positive outlook on life.

“I remember her speaking of her two sons … also her love of her young students at Holy Family. But the one thing that impressed me most was when there was the least bit of gossip that she thought was coming up she would in her polite way nip it in the bud!!

“She would say, ‘Now, we know we have to be careful how we say things to others so that it won’t come back and hurt someone.’ She taught me that one very important rule that I have remembered all my life!!

“So many times your Mother’s voice would be heard within my mind when I was going to say something about someone. ‘Be careful.’ … What a lifetime message she gave me so many years ago. …

“In the Thanksgiving and Advent message, you referred to forgotten gifts from the past. That reminded me of the beautiful handmade pillowcases that she gave to me as a wedding gift in 1964. But the most appreciated gift was her wisdom, consideration, kindness and love she had for others!”

I inherited my mom’s concern about gossip, but I know that I have not always been faithful in heeding her advice. I have witnessed the needless hurt that gossip causes so often. I have been amazed how readily people believe gossip that is circulated when so often it is, at best, based on a partial truth or a small kernel of fact.

Sometimes, I receive letters of outrage based on hearsay about one thing or another that has no correspondence to reality. We have all probably had the experience of being told that we have said something about someone that we have never said. And sometimes we have made judgments about people or things that were based on unexamined hearsay. It happens so easily.

Gossip about others is wrong because it is disrespectful of the human dignity of other people. Sometimes, in its more vicious forms, it is a form of violence because it is truly destructive. Often, gossip is, in fact, defamation of another person’s good name.

We need to keep in mind that not only those who are the source of gossip are doing wrong; so are those who willingly seek it, receive it and pass it on. Admittedly, one has to be really alert to the reality of gossip because it is so prevalent. My mom’s caution, “Be careful…,” is good advice.

One has to be a careful reader of the print media to discern what is presented as factual news and what is surmised. One has to listen with a critical ear to what is reported by and about prominent entertainment personalities. The entire purpose of some TV shows is to gossip about public personalities. In other words, we are washed in the tumble of words about other people, which often are untrue and are truly harmful. It is not virtuous to pass on negative things about other people—even if it is true.

Sins of the tongue are perhaps the easiest to commit and are the most frequently committed. During this season of special grace, we might do well to heed the admonition of many a saint: Sometimes it is better to be silent than to speak.

Fasting from useless and harmful gossip might be a timely practice for some of us. It could surely be the source of more peace of mind. I think it takes a conscious decision to address faults like gossip. We might need to convince ourselves that we really want to uproot a habit of talking too much!

On Easter Sunday, we will be invited to renew our baptismal promises and profession of faith. It was at our baptism that we received the universal call to holiness.

Our Lenten efforts to renew our commitment and our fidelity to respond to this call will make both Lent and Easter more meaningful. †


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