My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
The beginning of a new year is a time for resolutions, trying to lead a more virtuous life or break the habit of a pernicious vice. The problem with many new year's resolutions is that people often tend to lose their willpower or simply forget about them very quickly. That can easily be seen by the increased attendance at health clubs for several days after the first of the year, but within a few weeks the numbers are back to usual!
So now that we are a couple of weeks into 2014, but while the calendar is still fresh, let me suggest a resolution that requires conscientious perseverance and persistent effort. Actually, the idea comes from one of the themes that Pope Francis has addressed several times since he was elected as the Bishop of Rome and our Holy Father, namely, avoiding the vicious vice of gossip, which Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced as a "form of murder."
In his homily at his morning Mass on May 18, 2013 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence where he lives in Vatican City, Pope Francis spoke about how gossip by Christians is a "slap" to Jesus "in the person of his children." Gossip, the pope said, "is destructive to the church."
The Holy Father returned to this theme on Sept. 2, 2013, when he said, "Where there is God, there is no hate, envy or jealousy. Nor are there those who want to kill with gossip." He said that gossip is a weapon and it threatens the human community every day; it sows envy, jealousy and power struggles. It has even caused murder. Therefore, discussing peace must take into account the evil that can be done with one's tongue. That person in a community who gossips against his or her neighbor is, in a sense, killing him.
"The Apostle John," the pope said, "in chapter 3 of his First Letter, verse 15, tells us that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer." The pope immediately added, "We are used to gossip, to spreading rumors, and we often transform our communities as well as our family into 'hell' where this kind of crime that leads to killing one's brother and sister with one's tongue is manifest."
Similarly, in his homily on Sept. 13, 2013, Pope Francis warned that "gossip always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip." Quoting St. James the Apostle, the pope said the tongue is to be used to praise God, "but when we use our tongue to speak ill of our brother or sister, we are using it to kill God, the image of God in our brother." The Holy Father said that "if we ever gossip, we are certainly persecutors and violent." He then asked for grace "so that we and the entire church may convert from the crime of gossip to love, to humility, to meekness, to docility, to the generosity of love towards our neighbor."
Pope Francis addressed this topic yet again last month on Dec. 21, 2013, in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia, the administrative governing body of the Vatican. The Holy Father emphasized three hallmarks by which the Vatican personnel should conduct themselves: professionalism, service, and holiness of life. Referring to the last of these, holiness of life, the Holy Father said that, "in the hierarchy of values, this is the most important. Indeed, it is basic for the quality of our work, our service."
After saying that holiness "means a life immersed in the Spirit, a heart open to God, constant prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers," Pope Francis added, "Holiness, in the Curia, also means conscientious objection. Yes, conscientious objection to gossip! We rightfully insist on the importance of conscientious objection, but perhaps we too need to exercise it as a means of defending ourselves from an unwritten law of our surroundings, which unfortunately is that of gossip. So let us all be conscientious objectors; and mind you, I am not simply preaching! For gossip is harmful to people, harmful to our work and our surroundings."
Pope Francis has given us a real challenge, but if we follow his advice and avoid the vice of gossip throughout the year, we can make our families, our schools, our places of work, our government and our communities of faith more loving and charitable places of peace and harmony.
May God give us this grace. Amen.