By Hannah Brockhaus
In a visit to a Roman parish on Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to stop gossiping and ruminating on the shortcomings of other people, and to instead focus on repenting of their own sins. “The Lord wants to teach us not to go criticizing others, not to look at the defects of others: look first at yours, your faults,” the pope said in an unprepared homily March 3. Imagining that someone might say to him, “But, Father, I do not have any [faults]!” he responded: “Ah, congratulations! I assure you that if you do not realize here that you have them, you will find them in Purgatory! Better to see them here.”
“We are specialists at finding the bad things of others, without seeing our own [faults],” he said, which often leads to gossip and speaking badly about others.
Gossip is not new, the pope said, noting that it goes back all the way to the start of original sin. But gossip is also not just gossip, it goes further. It “sows discord, sows enmity, sows evil,” he warned. “This is why Jesus says: ‘Before speaking badly of others, take a mirror and look at yourself; look at your faults and be ashamed of having them,’” he said.
Pope Francis spoke at the parish of San Crispino da Viterbo in the northern outskirts of Rome. Before saying Mass, Francis met the children preparing for First Communion and Confirmation, the youth of the post-Confirmation group, and the parents of newly or soon-to-be baptized babies. He spent some time answering questions from the older boys and girls and listening to a song performed by the younger children. Afterward he greeted the priests and the sick and disabled of the parish, as well as a group of poor and homeless. He also heard the confessions of five parishioners.
In his homily, the pope referenced the arrival of Lent, which begins Wednesday, and advised people to use this time to reflect on how they treat others. “How do I behave with people? How is my heart in front of people? Am I a hypocrite, that faces with a smile and then from the back criticizes and destroys with my tongue?” he asked. If Catholics reach Easter having improved in this area – criticizing others less, gossiping less, “the Resurrection of Jesus will be seen more beautiful, greater among us,” he said.
Noting the difficulty that breaking such a habit can pose, Pope Francis gave two pieces of advice. The first was to pray, especially for the person one is tempted to criticize. “Ask the Lord to address that problem, and to you, to close your mouth,” he said, adding that “without prayer, we cannot to anything.”
When faced with the temptation to speak badly about someone, the second recommendation is to “bite your tongue. Strong! Because this will swell the tongue and you will not be able to speak,” he said with a laugh.
This does not mean, he said, to just be silent when others do something they should not. But, “be brave,” he urged, and speak to that person face-to-face, do not speak about it behind their back. “Indeed, gossip does not resolve anything,” he said. “It makes things worse…”
“Think about it,” he stated. “And pray to the Lord, pray that he may give us the grace not to speak ill of others.”
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