On several occasions, Pope Francis has spoken about an evil of the tongue, namely, gossip. He defined it as an act of “terrorism.” “I do not ‘play terrorist,’ because gossip is a form of terrorism. Gossip is like dropping a bomb: I destroy the other person and I go away calm. Please, do not gossip. It is the woodworm that eats away at the fabric of the Church, of the diocesan Church, of the unity among us all.”[1] On another occasion, he said: “Gossip destroys what God has made.”[2] Moreover, the Pope told a group of priests: “What most destroys priestly fraternity is gossip.”[3] He also said, “Do you want a perfect parish? No gossiping. None.”[4]

The Pontiff has referred to this seemingly current issue on many occasions. I say seemingly current because even Francis of Assisi alluded to the difficulty of mastering one’s own tongue. The issue is as serious today as it was then, when Francis wrote it into his Earlier Rule. In Chapter XI, the Poverello of Assisi states:

Let all the brothers be careful not to slander….Let them not grumble or detract from others, for it is written: Gossips and detractors are detestable to God….Let them not judge or condemn.

It is unfortunate, even scandalous, but we must admit that in many of our fraternities we have brothers or sisters who, because of idleness and spiritual emptiness, enjoy seeking a meal that does not really satisfy. They seek a drug that makes them forget all the emptiness and frustration they carry inside. They seek food that disfigures them and also disfigures the faces of their brothers and sisters: gossip.

St. Francis writes in one of his Admonitions:

Blessed is the servant who loves and respects his brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him, and who would not say anything behind his back that he would not say with charity in his presence.[5]

How do we behave in our fraternal relationships? Are we one of those who prefer talking behind someone’s back? Or, are we courageous and honest to the point of being transparent in front of our brothers, even if we run the risk of coming into conflict with them? I wonder: isn’t it healthier to face a situation head-on, rather than to go around claiming we are victims, or slandering others or stabbing them in the back?
Even after eight hundred years, the Poverello of Assisi continues to remind us that a fraternal community can only be built and sustained upon a foundation of trust, transparency, honesty and prudence; otherwise it can become a toxic environment, a den of vipers.

Until next time!

Friar Elio J. ROJAS

[1] Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants In the International Assembly of the Apostolic Union of the Clergy, Consistory Hall, Thursday, November 16, 2017.
[2] Pope Francis, General Audience, St Peter’s Square, Wednesday, June 6, 2018
[3] Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Community of the Pontifical Brazilian College in Rome, Consistory Hall, Saturday, October 21, 2017
[4] Visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Roman Parish of “Santa Maria a Setteville,” Sunday, January 15, 2017
[5] Admonitions XXV.