Fr. Peter Daly
May 4, 2007
Gossip: everybody does it and everybody suffers from it.
Sometimes gossip is sinful, but, in my experience, hardly anyone ever confesses. Maybe that’s because it is so common. If we do something routinely, we stop reflecting on it.
A few years ago, while preparing adult converts to receive Holy Communion, we got into a discussion about whether it was better to receive communion in the hand or on the tongue.
One man said he thought we shouldn’t receive communion in the hand because of all the sins we commit with our hands. Another responded immediately, “But what about all the harm we do with our tongues.” Good point.
We really can hurt people with sinful gossip.
I’m not talking small talk or harmless chit chat. Such talk may not be beneficial, but it does little damage. It is the stuff of ordinary conversation. We can make simple observations like, “She’s lost weight.” “He has been sick a long time.” “Their house has been on the market for 10 months.” Stuff like that is hardly sinful.
When does talk become sinful gossip? It seems to me that it has four characteristics.
First of all, sinful gossip is merely idle talk.
It serves no good purpose. It advances no good cause. We are talking about things that we cannot change or affect in any way.
It is not sinful gossip for a doctor to talk to a nurse about a patient’s sexually transmitted disease. They have a constructive purpose. They can advance a cure.
It is sinful gossip for the same doctor or nurse to talk to their husband or wife about that same patient. That conversation does nothing for the patient except tear them down and cause harm to their reputation.
Gossip is malicious talk.
Malicious talk serves an evil purpose. It is designed to harm the person we are talking about. The reason we want to share that information is to degrade the reputation of another. Often we do this to make ourselves feel superior.
Truth is no defense when it comes to gossip. Even when the information is true it can be malicious. Christians are held to a higher standard than newspapers. Just because a newspaper prints it does not mean that we should gossip about it.
There are very few things more valuable to a person than their good name. Once information is broadcast out we cannot get it back in the coral. We do not know how it might be used.
When we repeat something bad, to no purpose, we add to the harm.
A good test for malicious talk is our own feelings. How would I feel if something about me was repeated to others? Could I recover?
Gossip is about the private lives of others.
We do not have a right to delve into lives of famous people. Even politicians and celebrities should have a zone of privacy. Just because something is on the front page does not mean a Christian should talk about it. The supermarket tabloids titillate, but they do not elevate.
Finally, gossip degrades the speaker.
When we listen to someone gossip, we want to move away. We know that this kind of talk is designed to destroy. We know that the speaker will come after us next.
Christian speech should lift us up and encourage us. It should appeal to our better angels and noble thoughts. It should be a sign of grace.
Our tongue is a powerful instrument. It can be used for build up in grace or tear down in gossip.