Gossip, a sin described by the saints as “horrible,” “deplorable” and “abominable,” has been a topic of focus for Pope Francis in past months. To the Holy Father as to the saints, gossip is not just another sin but one which he describes as “poisonous,” likening it to a kind of murder.
Let’s look at the effects of gossip from a Christian perspective. Our supreme duty is to obey God (1 Jn 5:3) and love one another as He loves us (Jn 13:34). To gossip is to disobey God who holds us responsible for every careless word we speak. “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” says Jesus (Mt 12:36-37). Our words, then, have eternal consequences.
St. Paul writes “if one member (of the Church) suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). So whether we speak good or bad of another person, the effects resonate to the ends of the earth like the ripples from a pebble dropped in a pond – a “pay it forward” effect resonating through one’s entire lifetime and beyond. How then can we overcome this terrible sin?
First, we must realize the purpose for our existence. God has created us to be saints – that is, to be unconditional lovers of God whose every action radiates the joy (Jn 15:11) and light of Christ Himself (1 Jn 1:5). We must allow Jesus to live in us and act through us, just as St. Paul did (Gal 2:20). We must become, in the words of C.S Lewis, a “little Christ” to others and nothing less (Mt 5:48). As St. Therese of Lisieux says, “You cannot be half a saint, you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.”
Second, we must listen to the experts. St. John Vianney teaches: “If something uncharitable is said in your presence, either speak in favor of the absent, or withdraw, or if possible, stop the conversation.” If the victim of gossip is truly guilty, St. Francis de Sales recommends that we “apologize for the accused on account of his intentions.”
One morning my wife and her girlfriends were visiting over breakfast and one of the ladies began a sentence with “I really like (insert name) but…” Immediately her friend sitting next to her interrupted with a gentle “hey now” and playfully made a scissoring motion over her friend’s mouth with two fingers, as if to cut up her words as they came out. The ladies’ reaction to the playful gesture was laughter, and they immediately shifted their conversation. This is a light-hearted, creative example of how we can act with Christian love in such situations; but, of course, we must discern what is most appropriate for the particular situation.
What does Pope Francis recommend? Pray! Keep first things first. St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “Action is worthless without prayer.” Therefore I propose that because “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects (Jas 5:16)” we turn to the angels and saints to help us in this battle.
Why not just go straight to God? First, because Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5) shares His mediatorship with His entire Body, asking us to intercede for each other out of love (1 Tim 2:1). And second, none can pray for us with more power than our friends cheering us on from heaven (Heb 12:1). Just think: the angels are always before God in heaven (Mt 18:10) and the saints have been made perfectly righteous and are therefore “perfect pray-ers.” St. Josemaria understood this well when he remarked, “When God calls me and takes me to heaven, from there I’ll be able to help you much more, and very effectively.” So as the saints remain united to us in the one Body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5), they intercede for us as perfect imitators of Christ who is always interceding for us before God (Heb 7:25).
So look up! Call on the saints and angels. They are “prisms” that make our praises and petitions even more beautiful and radiant before God, as they offer our prayers with incense before Him and His throne (Rev 5:8;8:3-4). We have all of heaven on our side. And our Pope’s words reveal great hope for his flock: “I am convinced that if each one of us would purposely avoid gossip, at the end, we would become a saint! It’s a beautiful path!.. Do we want to become saints? Yes or no?”
**This post is an extended version of an article published in FacetoFace Ministries Summer Newsletter 2014.