Sunday, July 06, 2008

Eight Sunday after Pentecost

And the same was accused unto him.
(Luke 16:1)

The steward in the gospel was justly accused on account of the goods he had wasted; but there are many who lose their good name and honor by false accusations, and malicious talk! Alas, what great wrongs do detracting tongues cause in this world! How mean a vice is detraction, how seldom attention is paid to its evil, how rarely the injury is repaired!

When is our neighbor slandered?
When he is accused of a vice of which he is not guilty; when a secret crime is made known with the intention of hurting him, or when our duty does not require us to mention it; when we attribute an evil intention to him or entirely misconstrue his actions and omissions; when his good qualities or commendable actions are denied or lessened, or his merits underrated; when we remain silent, or speak ambiguously in cases where praise is due him; when we lend a willing ear to detractions, and make no effort to stop them; and lastly, when joy is felt in the detraction.

Is detraction a great sin?
Yes, for it is directly opposed to the love of our neighbor, therefore to the love of God, hence it is, as St. Ambrose says, hateful to God and man. By it we rob our neighbor of a possession greater than riches (Prov. 22: 1), and often he is plunged by it into want and misery, even into the greatest vices; St. Ambrose says: "Let us fly from the vice of detraction, for it is altogether a satanic abyss, full of deceit." Finally, detraction is a great sin, because it can seldom be recalled, and the injury done by it is very great, and often irreparable.

What should we do when we have committed this sin?
We should retract the calumny as soon as possible and repair the injury done to our neighbor in regard to his name or temporal goods; we should detest this sin, regret it, and be cleansed from it by penance, we should daily pray for him whom we have injured, and in future guard against the like fault.

Are we ever allowed to reveal the wrongs of our neighbor?
To make public the faults of our neighbor only for the entertainment of idle people, or for the sake of news, and to satisfy the curiosity of others, is always sinful. But if after having reproached or advised our neighbor fraternally, without obtaining our end, we make known his faults to his parents or superiors for the sake of punishment and reformation, far from being a sin it is rather a duty, against which those err who are silent about the sins of their neighbor, when by speaking they could prevent the sin and save him much unhappiness.

Is it a sin to listen willingly to detraction?
Yes, for we thus give the detractors occasion and encouragement. Therefore St. Bernard says: "Whether to detract is a greater sin than to listen to detraction, I will not decide. The devil sits on the tongue of the detractor as he does on the ear of the listener." In such cases we must strive to interrupt, to prevent the detracting words, or else withdraw; or if we can do none of these, we must show in our countenance our displeasure, for the Holy Ghost says: The northwind driveth away rain, so doth a sad countenance a backbiting tongue (Prov. 25: 23). The same demeanor is to be observed in regard to improper language.

What varieties of detraction are there?
There is a certain detestable kind of detraction which degrades and ridicules others by witty and sneering words. Still worse is that detraction which carries the faults of others from one place to another, thus exciting those who are on good terms to hard feeling, or making those who are living in enmity more opposed to each other. The whisperer and the double tongued, says the Holy Ghost, is accursed, for he hath troubled many that were at peace.

What should deter us from detraction?
The thought of the enormity of this sin; of the difficulty, even impossibility of repairing the injury caused; of the punishment it incurs, for St. Paul expressly says: Calumniators shall not possess the kingdom of God, (1 Cor. 6: 10). and Solomon writes: My son, fear the Lord, and the king: and have nothing to do with detractors; for their destruction shall rise suddenly (Prov. 24: 22).

Guard me, O most loving Jesus, that I may not be so blinded, either by hatred or, envy, as to rob my neighbor of his good name, or make myself guilty of such a grievous sin.

If your good name has been taken away by evil tongues, you may be consoled by knowing that God permitted this to humble you, to exercise you in patience and free you from pride and vain self-complacency. Turn your eyes to the saints of the Old and the New Law, to the chaste Joseph who was cast into prison on a false charge of adultery (Gen. 39), to the meek David publicly accused by Semei as a man of blood, (2 Kings 16: 7) to the chaste Susanna who was also accused of adultery, tried and condemned to death (Dan. 13). Jesus, the king of saints, was called a drunkard, accused and condemned as a blasphemer, a friend of the devil, an inciter of sedition among the people, and like the greatest criminal was nailed to the cross between two thieves. Remember besides that it does not injure you in the sight of God, if all possible evil is said of you, and that He, at all times, cares for those who trust in Him; for he who touches the honor of those who fear God, touches, as it were, the pupil of His eye (Zach. 2: 8), and shall not go unpunished. St. Chrysostom says: "If you are guilty, be converted; if you are innocent, think of Christ."


O most innocent Jesus, who wert thus calumniated, I submit myself wholly to Thy divine will, and am, ready like Thee, to bear all slanders and detractions, as with perfect confidence I yield to land care my good name, convinced that Thou at Thy pleasure wilt defend and protect it, and save me from the hands of my enemies.

At the head of the post we have a page fragment from the manuscript kept in the Melbourne library with the drawing depicting envy carrying her daughters, treachery and detraction.