Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

24th Sunday after Pentecost (5th Epiphany)—7 November A.D. 2010

On Detraction

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany celebrated after Pentecost
Dóminica Quinta quæ superfuit post Epiphaniam

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”[1]

    In this morning's Gospel our Lord employs the technique of the story teller to help his listeners retain an important point.  In the ancient world, when so few people were able to read and write, similes and metaphors were often employed in this fashion.  A moral point, embedded in a story about something familiar—in this case the wheat harvest—would long be remembered.

    Even we modern people can see the point fairly easily.  The kingdom of heaven—Christ's Church, here on earth—is like that field.  Our Lord sowed good seed in the creation of souls, has watered it bounteously with the Sacraments, and, at first, it seems as though there will be a good harvest.  It seems, at first, that God's kingdom will produce nothing but holy souls.

    Civilized people don't murder, or steal, or even commit adultery very often.  So the field seems to be producing a holy harvest.  But then, all of a sudden, we see that there have been weeds planted—seeds of dissention, discord, and strife.  For even among civilized people, the devil enters in and plants the destructive crop of speaking evil about one another.

    And, it is amazing how these seeds spread—and how destructive they can be.  Even if the harvest is not lost, the mixture of weeds among the wheat seems to spoil the pleasure of those who raised it and gather it.

    Actually, there are several kinds of weeds here—of various descriptions, but all detrimental to the crop of holiness.  Most of them take the form of words, but actions and gestures often play a part.

    Contumely is the ridiculing of a person to his face.  In addition to the possible harm to his reputation, it demonstrates hatred and contempt for him, and a lack of concern for the Christian community.

    Backbiting is much the same, but done behind the person's back.  There seems to be an element of cowardice here, as if the sinner is afraid to confront his enemy.

There is nothing wrong with offering a person honest and constructive criticism in private.  But all too often, we seem to look for non-essential traits of personality to criticize, and to criticize in public.  Both of these are wrong.

    Detraction is a bit worse, for it involves revealing confidential knowledge about a person in order to hurt them.  We have no right to harm a person's reputation—not even by revealing the truth about them—unless this is necessary for the good of others.  Let me make it clear that a priest may never reveal what he has heard in Confession or in privileged conversations connected with his ministry—unless, of course the penitent asks him to do so.  But let us say that, completely apart from such privileged communications, I know that so-and-so had a drinking problem twenty years ago, I still have no right to discuss this with people who don't know about it.  I may reveal it only if there is good reason to believe that it will surface again and hurt someone.  And lay people, who don’t hear Confessions are in the same position—they can speak about another’s fault only if they have good reason to believe it will hurt someone else.

    Talebearing is detraction done in secret, with the intention of stirring up hatred.  Again, there seems to be an element of cowardice mixed in.

    The unjust betrayal of secrets needs to be mentioned here, although it doesn't necessarily arise from hatred like the others.  Often we are entrusted with secret or confidential information because of our situation in life.  We are seriously obliged to keep the confidences of those who trust in us -- whether it be an employer with trade secrets, or a friend who has come to us in confidence for advice or assistance.

    Calumny, or slander, is the most serious form of evil speaking about another.  It implies telling falsehoods about someone in an attempt to injure them.  Not only does the sinner attempt to hurt his victim by reducing his public esteem; but he lies, and attributes faults that his victim never even had.

    All of these forms of speaking evil about others are wrong.  They deprive the victim of one of his most important possessions; his good name and reputation.  If you injure a man physically, or take his goods; he can probably recover, or go out and earn new goods.  But if you take away his reputation, you essentially cut him off from the world.  The injury is more lasting; and much harder for him to heal.

    We need to be very careful about what we say about each other.  Sometimes it even stems from speaking affectionately about someone who has a few little quirks; or from the well intentioned discussion of somebody's problems when they are not around.  Even when our intentions are innocent, we can do great harm.  So we must be very circumspect in speaking about others—particularly when they are not around to protect their own interest.

    There is no mystery why the Church put this particular epistle and gospel together today.  If we are to be “wheat without weeds,” we must have “charity,” which St. Paul calls “the bond of perfection.”  We must love one another, and not seek to injure our neighbor with any kind of speech, action, or scornful gesture.

    If we are uncharitable, we can expect to be bound into bundles with the other weeds, to be burnt in the fires of hell.  We must “bear with one another, and forgive one another,” if we expect to be taken into the kingdom of heaven at harvest time.



[1]   Matthew xiii: 24  


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