Dad tried to convince me to become a Presbyterian minister. Presbyterians had embraced women’s ordination. My father could think of nothing that would make him prouder than for one of his children to follow in his footsteps and become a Protestant preacher. My sister was more interested in science and math than theology and philosophy, so Dad targeted me.
I laughed, and said, “No way. I see what you go through. Every parishioner is a critic. You have as many bosses as you have members on the parish roster. And many of them criticize you behind your back!”
It was sad, but true.
I still don’t like gossip, and as a Catholic convert, I am particularly uneasy when I hear someone talking about a priest.
Old Testament David would not be amused.
I remember sitting on my grandma’s lap as she read the story of young David and King Saul from a children’s Bible. When David stumbles upon King Saul in a cave, he knows this is his one chance to end the deadly cat-and-mouse game that King Saul started. But David merely cuts a square from Saul’s garment and walks away – to prove to Saul that David is his trusted servant.
“I will not raise my hand to God’s anointed one.” It was David’s motto, and it should be ours as well.
Most of us would walk away from revenge. But how often do we use our tongues as a weapon? A weapon against a family member. A colleague. And even one’s own priest.
Words are powerful. They kill friendships and wound marriages. They turn neighbors into enemies. They can make a person resign or stop going home for the holidays.
But I think the greatest damage the tongue can do is in a parish.
When I was about five years old, I learned a song in Bible school. “Oh be careful little mouth what you say. For the Father up above is looking down in love. So be careful little mouth what you say.”
It is a lesson I need to learn.
As much as I hate gossip, I find it difficult to walk away when others dabble in it. All too often, I have remained silent or even participated in the conversation when I should have come to the defense of another. When two people gossip, the “weak and defenseless one” is the one who is not even present to refute the accusations. He is the one that I am charged with defending!
Father, forgive me.
Sins such as these affect the Body of Christ. Each one of us is made in the likeness of Christ. Our fellow Catholics have been anointed with Holy Chrism. And so, we are called to remember David’s motto. “I will not raise my hand to God’s anointed one.”
Sometimes, that means coming to the defense of the one who isn’t even present to make a defense.
And sometimes, the hand we must not raise is actually a mouth that should not speak.
In his homily at a morning Mass on April 9, 2013, Pope Francis exhorted the faithful to remain meek and refuse to speak ill of others. Meekness has “many enemies,” he said, explaining that gossip is the first enemy of meekness. The Holy Father wants us to put aside a gossiping tongue and a critical spirit. "When one prefers gossiping, gossiping about another, it's like clobbering another . . . it is a temptation of the Evil One," said Pope Francis.
If we are to be one body in Christ, we must place a guard on our tongues. Father, silence our wayward tongues and make us truly one.