When we gossip, we imitate the homicidal act of Cain when he killed his brother Abel, which makes us “Christian murderers”. It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in history.
Language is a powerful force. God spoke and creation was brought into existence. Language has the capacity to incite or inspire. Language is the landscape of the mind. It speaks to who we are and what is important to us. It forms the basis for much of our social interaction. The mouth can be an instrument of war or peace. Sins of the mouth cut deep, deeper than any sword. These sins may not be able to pierce the skin, but they can pierce the heart and do damage to the soul.
Satan will take our ill-spoken words and give them a life of their own, with the ultimate goal of using them to separate us and others from eternal life with God. He’ll keep those words echoing in our personal woundedness to the point where we believe and propagate them. He’ll keep them reverberating in our pride to the point where we begin to defend sin, deny our responsibility and even justify our actions. Satan will twist our heart and mind to the point where we become his instrument against Christ and the Church.
There are many different sins of the mouth that provide an opening for Satan. Once spoken, words cannot be taken back. Be careful how you use your words.
Gossip is idle talk, especially about others. It can be the revealing of secrets, the spreading of rumors or simply worthless conversation. The relative truth of what is being gossiped about is irrelevant to culpability; not all of what is true is permitted to be shared. Gossip can also be a sin of sloth; the time and energy wasted gossiping could have been put to better use. Satan uses gossip to spread his lies, to open doors and to weaken your resolve.
Let listening to worldly news be bitter food for you, and let the words of saintly men be as combs filled with honey.
Saint Basil the Great
Detraction is the spreading of a truth that will cause harm to someone’s reputation, either through the spoken or written word. The mere fact that you know something about someone else does not give you the right to disclose it. More harmful than gossip, which may or may not have an evil intent, detraction’s intent is to cause harm. Detraction is more clearly a work of the evil one. It is often the second wave of gossip.
Would we wish that our own hidden sins should be divulged? We ought, then, to be silent regarding those of others.
Saint John Baptist de la Salle
Slander is verbally defaming someone’s character with the truth. It differs from detraction only in its method of delivery; it is spoken aloud. The intent is the same, to malign someone’s good name. While the written word is typically longer lasting, the spoken word is often more immediate and more painful. Satan will goad you into gossiping and then inflame your passions so that you combine the two in an act of slander.
The one who slanders and the one who listens to a slanderer have the devil in their company. One man has Satan on his tongue and the other in his ear.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Calumny is the malicious uttering of a falsehood causing injury to someone’s good name. The sin of calumny is compounded in that it involves a lie and an attack on someone’s reputation. With gossip and detraction, what is being spread may be true. With calumny, it is a lie from the start. Much as Satan was a liar from the beginning, engaging in calumny places you deep inside the enemy’s camp.
To deprive a man of his reputation and honor, one word is sufficient. By finding out the most sensitive part of his honor, you may tarnish his reputation by telling it to all who know him, and easily take away his character for honor and integrity. To do this, however, no time is required, for scarcely have you complacently cherished the wish to calumniate him, than the sin is effected.
Saint John Chrysostom
In the next blog, we will look at some other sins of the mouth that are damaging to ourselves and others. Until then, make it a gossip free week!