From July 18th through July 24th we will be sharing daily reflections from the Final Vow Retreat in Bungoma, Kenya. We ask that Brothers and Associates join Brothers Moses Wafula Barasa, Serge Lumbala Kachunga, Daniel Ongeso Ohola, Marc Kabwita Mufuka, and René Mambwe Kijiba in reflection, as these brothers prepare for their Final Vows. Please keep these brothers in your prayers, as well as their retreat leaders, Brothers Larry Harvey and Richard Mazza.
He will not contend or cry out,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory.
Matthew 12: 19-20 (Isaiah 42: 2-3)
Today’ s gospel begins by telling us that “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death?” Why did they do this? It was because Jesus healed the man with a withered hand on the sabbath day. When they challenge Jesus about this, he asks them whether or not it is “lawful to do good on the sabbath,” to exercise works of love on the day of rest. One of the great tensions of the gospels is the struggle between those for whom religion becomes a source of superiority and self-righteousness and Jesus who claims that the first priority is always to respond in compassion to the suffering and neediness of the person before us, to recognize our shared brokenness and to care for that in the other as in ourselves.
When our religious practice becomes a way of saving ourselves and of becoming special, it feeds our innate tendency to competition and comparison. For us to “be up,” another or others must “be down.” There is nothing more destructive of friendship, love, and community than the feeding of our tendencies to diminish others through slander and gossip. This is one of the recurrent themes of Pope Francis, who realizes that there can be no church (ecclesia), no friendship community unless we practice respect and reverence for each other, which begins with ceasing to slander or gossip about others. We are all “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” and we are called, as Jesus, never to break those reeds or quench those wicks.
During his morning Mass homily in Santa Marta, Pope Francis focused on the topic of gossip – saying that when we participate in this sin, we imitate Cain’s gesture in killing his brother Abel.
The Pope began his homily Sept. 13 by echoing the words of Jesus in the gospel reading, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
He spoke for a few minutes on the virtue of humility, adding that Jesus addressed those who practice the opposite and who foster “that hateful attitude towards one’s neighbor when one becomes a ‘judge’ of his brother,” calling them “hypocrites.”
“Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look to their own shortcomings.”
Pope Francis said that the “Lord does not waste many words on this concept,” and that “he who has hatred in his heart for his brother is a murderer.”
The Pope added that in his first letter, John the Apostle emphasizes that “anyone who has hatred for his brother is a murderer, he walks in darkness, he who judges his brother walks in darkness,” and that those who judge or speak ill of others are “Christian murderers.”
“A Christian murderer…It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in History.”
During this time when there is so much debate and discussion about war amid cries for peace, the pontiff pleaded that “a gesture of conversion on our own behalf is necessary.”
“Gossip,” he cautioned, “always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip.”
Quoting St. James the Apostle, the Pope imparted that the tongue is designed 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.”
He said that although there are some who believe certain persons deserve to be gossiped about, that is not the case. Rather, he encouraged the Mass attendees to “Go and pray for him! Go and do penance for her! And then, if it is necessary, speak to that person who may be able to seek remedy for the problem. But don’t tell everyone!”
“Paul had been a sinner, and he says of himself: ‘I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man. But I have been mercifully treated.’”
Pope Francis challenged those present, saying that perhaps none are blasphemers, but that “if we ever gossip we are certainly persecutors and violent.”
“We ask 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.”