Earlier this week, I came across a quote from Pope Francis which came during his most recent Sunday Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square. Commenting on the Sunday Gospel, he noted how easy it can be for us, when noticing the faults of others, to tell others about it. He then issued this very strong statement: “Please, brothers and sisters, let’s make an effort not to gossip. Gossiping is a plague worse than COVID.”
The Holy Father was not intending to downplay the significance of the current pandemic and the legitimate damage it has done, but he wants us to know how destructive gossip is to our relationships with one another and to the Church. When we speak poorly of others, the virus spreads to the person to whom we share our words, which often results in their forming a negative opinion of others. Left unchecked, a person’s reputation can easily be ruined because of gossip.
You may have heard the story that has been told about St. Philip Neri, of how he responded to a person who had confessed the sin of gossip. As a penance, he told the penitent to take a feather pillow to the top of a bell tower, rip it open, and let the feathers loose over the city of Rome. The saint then told the penitent to go and pick up all of the feathers. In exasperation, the penitent said that trying to find every feather was impossible! St. Philip used that example to demonstrate the serious nature of gossip, how once we let those uncharitable words leave our mouth, they can scatter about and it will be impossible for us to take back what has been said.
The theme we are focusing on this month is the role of parents in education. One of the documents of the Second Vatican Council points out one of the most important lessons to be imparted by parents to children: “In the family parents have the task of training their children from childhood on to recognize God’s love for all men.” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 30). An important way of transmitting this lesson is to set the example of never gossiping about people but speaking of others in a way that respects their dignity. Even though we may be painfully aware of the weakness of somebody, we can use that as an opportunity to pray for them, that the Lord will touch their lives and bring them to a place of conversion.
While this lesson is particularly important for parents, it really applies to all of us. We all probably know people who are good about fighting back gossip. There is something attractive about those types of people and they really challenge us to try to imitate their charity when it comes to speaking of others. May we all pray for the grace to be the type of people whose words about others are always used to build up and never to tear down. When we do this, we make a substantial contribution in slowing the spread of the deadly virus that is gossip and building a culture in which all come to recognize God’s love for His people.
Father Alford is the Rector of the Cathedral and serves in the diocesan curia as the Vicar for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations.