Monday, June 23, 2014

Overcoming Careless Words

Pope Francis has not minced words when it comes to the sin of gossip, speaking about its perils on multiple occasions:
  •  In one homily he likened the act of gossip to Judas' betrayal of the Lord, saying that when we gossip about someone we are turning them into a "commodity" and selling them for 30 pieces of silver, which is the pleasure or other gain we receive through the gossip. 
  • On another occasion, he warned that slander is a grave sin which "wants to destroy God's work and is spawned by something very nasty... by hatred." 
  • Finally, in a separate homily, he explains that the consequence of gossip is to "transform our communities as well as our family into ‘hell’ . 
The Pope cautions that none of us are exempt from this sin and that he himself is tempted by it each day.

YIKES! It gets worse...If you think the Pope's words are tough - read these words of the Lord, who doesn't limit his warnings to gossip, but rather casts a much broader net to include "every careless word".

OUCH! Meditating on this Scripture brings to mind a barrage of images of myself in a variety of life situations where I have let loose with careless words including:
  • a snippy, unkind remark made to my husband 
  • an exasperated "Why can't you guys just be quiet for one.single.minute!" shout at my children
  • a brusque "I'm really busy Mom- gottta go..." followed by a quick hang-up to my Mom
  • a snarky comment made to a friend about a mutual acquaintance's perceived fault
  • and the insidious, "I don't mean to gossip, but....." followed by a "charitable" discussion of someone else's life which is frankly, none of my beeswax...
The idea of rendering an account of each and every one of these situations to the Lord leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach, especially considering the fact that the above examples are not exactly one-hit wonders, but more closely resemble a record with its needle stuck...(and yes, I am dating myself...)

Don't worry. I have no intention in this blog post to leave myself, or you, my readers, wallowing in the depths of despair and considering drastic measures such as fasting on all speech for the next 30 days, weeks, years in order to overcome the careless words in our lives. Fortunately, the Scriptures, the wisdom of the saints, and our Holy Father offer a treasury of wisdom to help overcome the vice of careless speech.

Fill Your Fruit Basket
Every time I confess the sin of losing patience and the subsequent careless words that seem to inevitably follow, my confessor reminds me that that it is not patience that I am lacking - what I truly need is more of the Holy Spirit, whose presence in our lives bears the abundant fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). When our fruit basket is full, what flows out from our heart and our mouths is careful speech, rather than careless words - speech that reflects the life of the Holy Spirit within us. The key is to keep that basket full, and the only way for us to do that is through constant surrender to the Holy Spirit in our lives and quick repentance when our words fall short.

Respond Instead of React
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, particularly that of self-control, helps us to cultivate the habit of stopping and listening before we rush into speaking. My wise confessor has reminded me on countless occasions that it is better to respond, than to react. Taking a pause, and uttering a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit before reacting immediately to situations or conversations is a great way to think through our responses. A well-thought out response is much less likely to involve careless words than a knee-jerk reaction is.

Pope Francis points us directly to prayer and the Holy Spirit, through whom we receive the grace to live out a new life of gentleness which "makes room for others." This virtue of gentleness is what we need to cultivate in order to overcome the vice of gossip. He encourages us with these words:
"If with the grace of the Spirit, we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great and beautiful step ahead and will do everyone good. Let us ask the Lord to show us and the world the beauty and fullness of this new life, of being born of the Spirit, of treating each other with kindness, with respect. Let us ask for this grace for us all."

*I found the quote from St. Arsenius in a great book by Father Joseph Esper entitled Saintly Solutions to Life's Common Problems: From Anger, Boredom, and Temptation to Gluttony, Gossip, and Greed - please note than any purchases made by clicking through this link will result in my domestic church receiving a small commission which we greatly appreciate!    


  1. First time posting but I really love your site. :)

    Can you tell us how to share what's on our hearts without it being a sin? Because I haven't wanted to commit the sin of detraction, I have kept silent on the struggles inside my marriage. It has left me in greater pain and isolation. I do have some holy friends who I think would offer true help and prayer, but I was a loose cannon for years and am afraid of becoming one again. Can you offer some guidelines? I know motivation must be imperative!

    1. Thanks so much for writing. That is a tough situation you are in - I will keep you in my prayers. My suggestion would be to find a good confessor, or Spiritual Director or a close trustworthy friend (which is sounds like you have) that you can share your struggles with in confidence. It is good to have an honest discussion with another person - sometimes, just the act of sharing a struggle can make it easier to deal with. I think we all know in our hearts when our speech has "crossed a line" - but an honest sharing of a struggle with the motive of improving the situation does not cross that line and may open the door for help in a difficult situation. The enemy likes nothing better than to keep us isolated and alone. Pray for protection over your conversation before you have it and then trust in the Lord's love! God bless you!

  2. I talked about this with my priest today. He affirmed what you said. I also realized how much pride was motivating me. I didn't realize until the instant I started talking to him about it. Thank you and God bless you!

    1. I am so happy you had the opportunity to speak with your priest about it! God bless you too - you are in my prayers!