Idle chatter about others can bring about great harm.
In seeking personal advice or encouragement we also ought to speak only with others who are trustworthy and can reasonably be of help. Where possible we should exclude unnecessary details, even the name of the person being discussed, (if feasible). Discretion is the key word in these necessary conversations.
It may also be important to balance the avoidance of gossip with a reminder that extreme secrecy may also be unhelpful in a community. There are times when egregious situations must be directly addressed. In cases like these we ought to follow the norms set forth by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Hence, discretion must also give way to some transparency in given circumstances, and communities may need to address some matters publicly and clearly.
But as a consistent rule, we ought to be very careful about sins of speech. Too easily and carelessly we risk ruining the reputation and standing of others by our gossip. Idle chatter about others can bring great harm and draw many others into sin. Scripture says, Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3). Indeed, Help Lord! keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth! Put your word in my heart, so that when I do speak, it’s really you.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, DC. He attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary and holds Masters degrees in Divinity and in Moral Theology. He was ordained in 1989 and named a Monsignor in 2005. He has conducted a weekly Bible Study in Congress and in the White House, for two and four years, respectively.
Reprinted with the permission of Msgr. Pope. Originally published on his blog on the website of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
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