Killing us softly with your words

Julie Filby

Kenneth Cramer, MA, LPC, NCC, is founder of St. Raphael Counseling ( 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.”

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.

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright