Pastoral Message – February 27, 2022
Our relationships, whether at the parish or at the school, are based on mutual respect and trust. The quickest way to erode that trust is to speak poorly about one another. That’s why I get frustrated when folks within our parish communicate negativity, discontent, and general unhappiness. I have been praying about how that situation might be addressed for the benefit of the parish as a whole. The Holy Spirit heard my prayer and gave me an amazing opportunity. It happens to be my turn to write this reflection on a weekend when the readings cover the exact topic that I was hoping that I could address. WOW! God is good!
As the Book of Sirach reminds us: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” Unfortunately, when most people are tested, they fail. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches, “Every tree is known by its own fruit…A good person…produces good, but an evil person…produces evil; from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” What is in the fullness of our hearts? If we truly believe that our hearts are full of goodness, then why would our speech be full of evil?
On the door to the TYKE room at the school there is a poster that reads: “THINK before you speak: Is it True, Helpful, Inspirational, Necessary, and Kind.” We are trying to teach our 4 year olds a skill that many of us have not mastered at 34 or 54 or 74. Why do we so often say negative things about others? Why are we so intent on finding splinters in their eyes? Why are we so anxious to share rumors, innuendo, and hurtful comments? Why do we take issues to a third person instead of speaking with the person who is directly connected to the situation?
At a minimum, we must recognize that we are all on the same team here. We are supposed to be Catholic Christians fighting the good fight against all that is evil – including evil thoughts and evil words. Unlike the rest of the world which seems to revel in criticizing each other and speaking badly about one another, we are supposed to support each other with kind words and charitable actions. This is particularly true within our parish and school. Even when we disagree with our staff or other parishioners, we should not stoop to publicly making negative personal comments intended to be hurtful or divisive.
During the Obama and Biden presidencies, FOX has run a continuous stream of negative stories about each president. During the Trump presidency, CNN and MSNBC continuously ran negative stories about President Trump. Thus, for more than thirteen years, these media outlets have failed to report factual, unbiased, objective news regarding the President and/or his team. If we use the THINK approach to evaluate their reporting, these media outlets often fail to tell the whole truth (T), none of them has any intention to be helpful (H), their words are not particularly inspirational (I), necessary (N) or kind (K). Thanks to the examples of media personalities, politicians and other public figures, we have become a society in which the mere existence of disagreement leads to personal attacks. Usually these personal attacks are not even direct attacks but, instead, are voiced to third parties so that the speaker can rally support for the attack. Civil discourse and spirited discussion devoid of personal attacks are sadly absent from the world in which we live.
Apparently, many of us feel better about ourselves when we attack absent third parties while drinking coffee or sipping wine with our friends. It’s one of the top three sins that I hear about in Confession. It seems as though everybody does it (including, I’m embarrassed to say, yours truly). Even though we know that this behavior is quite destructive, we can’t stop ourselves from thinking evil thoughts and then speaking evil words.
When Jesus tells us to love God and love one another he means that we cannot truly be in loving relationship with God unless we are in a loving relationship with one another. Loving relationships demand that we avoid speaking poorly about one another even when we disagree with that person’s moral, political, or religious positions. For that reason, it is absolutely imperative that we curb our tongues regarding negative personal comments about others.
When we join a conversation that is “bashing” someone else, we might also wonder whether these same people (our supposed friends) actually bash us when we are not present. This becomes a vicious circle of actions that not only damage relationships but also put our eternal goals in jeopardy. After reading this, I’m sure that some of you will be speaking with one another in a conversation that might start like this: “Who does Fr. Mike think that he is lecturing us about being more careful in our speech? I heard that he…” I agree, I am a poor role model for this particular advice. However, the “THINK” lesson still has great value. The next time you are in a group and the conversation turns to gossiping about or criticizing someone on a personal level, THINK carefully about what you are about to say; tell those you are with that you are not comfortable bashing others; and walk away if you can’t get the conversation headed in a more Christian direction. As Paul tells us, we must be “always fully devoted to the work of the Lord.”