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Killing us softly with your words

Kenneth Cramer, MA, LPC, NCC, is founder of St. Raphael Counseling (www.straphaelcounseling.com) and a member of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association.

A few months ago, our Holy Father Francis talked about a pervasive killer found in our communities. He called this killer “terrorism” and labeled it a “disease” that could destroy “in cold blood.”

The killer he’s referencing is probably not the first thing you think of—he’s talking about the sins of gossip, rash judgment, calumny and detraction.

Most people know what gossip is. “It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs,” the pope said. But what are calumny, rash judgment and detraction?

The catechism states a person is guilty “of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation the moral fault of a neighbor; of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them”; and “of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them” (CCC 2477).

These sins are cancers that eat us up from the inside out. They spread like wildfire. They are one of the devil’s best tools against the Church because they’re not easy to recognize. They work a little here, a little there, and we think they aren’t a big deal. We think that we are just talking about one person to another person, but before you know it, the story has gone around, spreading a hurtful message.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”

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Notice the words “edifying” and “grace” in that verse? To edify is to provide moral and intellectual instruction. When you talk to someone about someone else, are you edifying them in order to impart God’s grace? Or are you just venting and being negative? We, as Catholics, are called to help others toward holiness, to use language to build people up, not tear them down.

Pope Francis said we should be “conscientious objectors” to these sins.

The next time you feel like talking badly about someone or listening to someone speak badly about another, why not try to impart that grace promised in Ephesians? Grace is part of forgiveness, restoration and redemption, and those are the ecstatic, counter-intuitive message of the Gospel. When we build up a person instead of tearing them down, we are truly living the Gospel.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, goes one step further and says not only should we not speak evil of anyone, but we should also not think evil of anyone.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).

Those are things we are supposed to contemplate. Those are things we are supposed to try and see in the other, as God sees them. And that is the cure for the diseases of gossip, rash judgment, calumny and detraction.

If we focus on forgiveness, grace and the presence of God, then, as it says the next verse of Philippians, “God will give you peace of heart”. And that is one of the keys to not just healing our communities, but to our own personal happiness.


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