Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (24th Sunday after Pentecost) – November 11, 2012 by Monsignor Patrick Perez
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
First, a few comments. I know most of us are in despair after the elections, and it’s sobering to realize we live in a nation of fools. We live in a nation of fools. It’s fools who elected this man. And, if you were Catholic and voted for him, you have a heck of a lot of penance to do. Going to confession is not going to be enough, because if you’re not truly sorry, if you have not true contrition for voting for the devil that this president is, then you’re not forgiven. You can go into confession, you can even get the words of absolution over you. It doesn’t do you any good. Okay? This, Oh, I studied the issues. Issues, my foot. There was one issue in this election and that was the life of millions of unborn children. And if any of you voted for Obama, you voted to kill those children. And God help you in the afterlife.
That being said, I want to first say to all veterans, a very blessed Veterans Day. This Mass is for all veterans, those who are in our congregation first and foremost, but, also, for those everywhere, those living, those who have passed away, those who have passed away in the various wars and conflicts, and those who have passed away, thank God, of natural causes afterwards.
I was thinking, even one of my altar boys sort of, he’s a veteran of boot camp anyway. So, it’s for him, too, I suppose. And I decided there was one real advantage of being in the Army and then coming back to be an altar boy is that you have patent leather shoes. And I think I want to make them obligatory on all altar boys, because they look so very sharp.
Now, in today’s epistle, we have this wonderful vision of how Catholics, how Christians should live together and preserve the peace of Christ in the Church and in their homes. And, I wanted to talk about something which is the major disturber of that. And also the gospel speaks about somebody had come and sown cockle amongst the wheat, you know, cockles of wheat, it’s like a thistle. They went amongst the good wheat in the field and they sowed this weed amongst them, and the comment of the person in the parable was, “An enemy hath done this”.
And, so, today, I wanted to say a few words about those who sow cockle amongst the wheat, or who disturb the peace of Christ in any community or in the world with something we call sins of the tongue, or a backbiting tongue. I know that we all think about it to a certain extent, but it’s not something that we give enough thought to.
Now, what I want to start by saying just as a reflection, those of us who know anything about horses or equestrians or have even had equestrians now or at some time in our youth, know that we have these things called bits and bridles. Right? And you stick them in the horse’s mouth. Basically, what they do is they pinch the horse’s tongue when you yank on it, and they make it do what you want it to do. It doesn’t like slice their tongue in half or something like that. It pinches it. So, they have two little inter connected links and when you pull it, it just goes like that (Monsignor showing operation of bit). There’s others that go up and down. In any case, the reflection is that we can do that with a horse, but there’s no force on earth that can tame the human tongue. There is nothing that can be done, outside of the grace of God and your own efforts to bridle the human tongue. And the human tongue is a dangerous instrument in certain cases. It can spill poison, shoot it all over the place, and damage communities or individuals’ reputations and things. It is something we have to give a lot of thought to.
Because, a lot of times, we’ll just talk away and, then, afterwards, Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. And sometimes we really don’t even realize what it is we’re doing or that it’s as bad as it is. So, let me just go over a few of these sins of the tongue. I want to add from the letter of St. James, just to put this in to perspective or what made me think about it. He said, “We put bits into horses’ mouths that they may obey us. And we control their whole body also. But no man can tame the tongue”.
St. Thomas Aquinas said in his definition, “Backbiting is denigration” — that means taking away from –”a neighbor’s reputation by means of secret words. Indeed, a person may wound someone by word in two ways; openly to his face, and secretly when he is absent. And that is backbiting.
Palladius once asked St. Anthony, “What is backbiting?” And St. Anthony said, “It is every sort of wicked word we dare not speak in front of the person about whom we are talking”. So that’s a good way to think about it. Don’t say anything behind a person’s back that you wouldn’t say if they were there. Now, that’s not perfect, because a lot of people will say, Well, bring them on. I’ll say it to his face, too. And it wouldn’t be any nicer if you did that in certain cases — but, you know, in general.
So, these people, these backbiters, they don’t do physical harm to those who are absent. They strike them with their tongue. And there are eight specific ways in which someone can backbite his neighbor. So, I’m going to just briefly go through these. But there are eight of them.
The first is, when somebody gets carried away, usually by vanity, and imputes things against his neighbor that never happened, or he adds to the truth imaginary circumstances that constitute either a lie or a detraction. So, they are talking about somebody and they embellish the story, which makes the person look worse than what actually happened. Okay? So, you can use your imagination to think up examples of that.
Secondly, when he brings a hidden or unknown fault to light. What they say is true, but they shouldn’t say it. You know, backbiting, it isn’t just saying lies about somebody. It’s repeating some true fault of theirs without necessity. And that is a bad sin as well. Because we all have faults. Right? We’ve all done things. And, let’s say, I do something wrong or you do something wrong. Okay? We all do something, afterwards we go, Okay, shoot, I have to be more careful about that. Right? I shouldn’t have done that. Well, if someone repeats that fault and you’ve already repaired it in your personality, then it’s making it like seem in public that you can’t stop that fault, and that you’re always doing these things. So, we shouldn’t repeat even true things about somebody that are faults. I mean, repeat true things that are good, of course. You know, something is good that somebody did, shout it from the roof tops. But their faults, you know, say nothing if nothing good.
And, you know I know people say, Well, why can’t I tell the truth? Can’t I tell the truth when it’s the truth? Well, there’s a difference between telling the truth and repeating something like this without grave necessity. You know, if somebody is less than the most attractive person you’ve ever seen in your life, you’re not obliged to go up to them on the street and say, You’re ugly. It’s the truth, isn’t it? Well, it might be, and it might not be. Because, remember, what makes you beautiful is the beauty of your soul, not of your face or the rest of you. And you have no idea how beautiful their soul might be. But, in any case, you see you are not obliged to do things like that. It might be the truth, but you don’t do it. And it’s the same with somebody’s faults. You just let God take care of them and them take care of them.
Exaggerating a fault. When somebody exaggerates a fault in another, whether it’s false or true, you’re exaggerating it. If they did commit a fault, and you relate that, that’s bad enough. But if you exaggerate it, it’s so much the worse. That’s another kind of backbiting.
When you relate something about another person that is not evil in any way, but speaks as though his neighbor had done it for evil reasons and adds various explanations to it. So, somebody says, Well, I saw Mr. Jones and there was a beggar outside of the grocery store and he gave him some money. That was just wonderful. And the other person says something like, Well, he probably did it just because you were with him and wanted you to think that he was nice and good and generous and gave alms to these people. Well, you see, that’s backbiting. How does one person know what the other person gave it for? So, to say something like that puts in question this wonderful deed of alms giving that somebody did.
By the way, I was outside of a Walgreen’s the other day, and this person was begging — you know, they have the signs now, right? And this person was from Romania. Unfortunately, you’re seeing more of them around here. And the sign at the end said, “G-o-b-r-e-s-u, Gobresu, because they thought, you know, people are always saying, God bless you, God bless you. And they didn’t know what it was, so they put at the end, Gobresu, thinking that‘s what it was. (Monsignor laughing) Well, I thought it was good, that was worth a few bucks. Anyway, it made me laugh.
Okay, so you can’t say something about another person that they did that’s not evil, but speaks as though they had done it for evil reasons.
When a backbiter declares nothing but is happy to say, Oh, I’ve heard said — there’s a rumor around — wink, wink, nudge, nudge, kind of thing. I’ve heard it, and then tell something about somebody about whom they have or haven’t heard some kind of a rumor, that’s another form of backbiting. Under that same one comes what we call damning with faint praise. Like, somebody, they’ll say something good about somebody but in such a way that it kind of makes them seem bad, if you know what I mean. Like, Oh, she is always so well dressed, and smells so good with her perfume and carries herself so well, I really admire that. And the other one says, Yes, I notice she bleaches her whiskers fastidiously, you know, this kind of thing, which means she’s either Polish, Italian or Portuguese normally, but there are other ones who fall under that, but, you see, that’s like, you know, what we call left-handed compliments. Backbiting, that was the fifth one.
Backbiting somebody with a gesture. Do you understand this one? This is a very common one. Somebody says, You know, this lady, I always see her in church and she’s praying her rosary, and she is so devout to spend that much time in church and praying. And someone just goes, Humph (Father rolling eyes and giving derogatory glance) (Monsignor laughing) You don’t even have to say anything. It’s like, you know, you’re saying this woman has some sinister motive for being in church and praying the rosary a lot and stuff like that. So, you can backbite with gestures as well.
Not only with body language but also with silence. Take the same person. She’s so pious, she in the church a lot praying, she goes to every adoration and prays before the Blessed Sacrament, and the other persons just goes (Father folding his arms, looking down, frowning, with dark look, describing silent attitude) (Church attendees laughing) Well, that’s backbiting, too. You are taking away from — you know, in these acts if you see somebody, for example, in church a lot praying, then charity, as it says in the epistle for today, you see, you have to think in charity. Charity always assumes the best motives in somebody. When you see somebody doing something, even something that might look wrong, charity automatically — you assume the best of motives in that person, because you don’t know their heart. So, you assume that they have the best motives for what they are doing. And, if somebody is praying in church a lot and before the Blessed Sacrament, the assumption is on our part in charity that they are good, pious people who are headed in the right direction and nothing else. And no silence, and no rolling your eyes, if anybody happens to mention it.
Finally, number eight, a person is guilty of back biting if he is publicly blamed for something he did and he denies his guilt. How is that backbiting? You’re calling the accuser a liar. You are taking away from his reputation. If you are accused of something, well, heck, we all do things we can be accused of, right? Just say, Yeah, okay. It might be none of your business but, yeah, I did it, you know, that kind of thing. (Monsignor laughing) But, to say, No, you lie, you lie like a rug, that would be wrong.
So, now, what to do about this. Backbiting, there are big treatises on backbiting and, of course, I can’t go into it in great detail, but I do want to give some suggestions. For most of us, we need to have a lot of daily prayer and examination of conscience to tell how it is that we might be backbiting. Do we do any of these things? Do we do the gestures or relating people’s faults. Now, I want to add a caveat here. It is somewhat less serious when it is a member of the family you are talking to and about, you know. Because, a lot of times, like if you are in the position of having to deal with somebody in the family and take care of them or whatever, you might call your sister or your brother and vent a little bit. But that’s more like a safety measure and it’s within the family. It’s not the same context. You are talking with somebody who is related to them or knows them, and you have to do this or you are going to go loony sometimes. Okay? So, that’s one of the exceptions. Because a lot of times people will come into the confessional and say, Well, I was talking with my brother or sister, you know, in having to deal with my mother and stuff and I didn’t know……It’s a lot less serious under those circumstances.
Okay, daily prayer, examination of conscience, frequent confession and Holy Communion. Why? Two-pronged approach that I’m always talking about. You pray as if everything depended on God, and you work as if everything depended on you. You can’t just sit there and pray without using your other faculties to overcome something, or it ain’t going to be done. You know, these kinds of things like I say very often, it’s like somebody sitting on the couch in a house that’s burning down, and they’re going, Well, I’m praying for the fire to go out. Well, guess what? You’re going to burn up. And it won’t be a surprise to any other person, I don’t think.
So, frequent confession and Holy Communion, besides the things that you do, because only grace ultimately can make you overcome these faults and give you the prudence and restraint necessary to speak purely.
Pray for grace to recognize sins of the tongue. You know, Just say, God and my guardian angel, point out to me that I am doing these things — well, point them out before I do them preferably, you know, that kind of thing, but point it out, pray to recognize. Pray for the grace of remaining silent during discussion of a bad or touchy situation. So, something is going on and, you know, you are just dying to put in your two cents. Right? But you pray for the grace to not. That’s fairly simple.
Pray for the grace to remain silent during discussions of other people, especially if you are tempted to a sin of distraction. Because you could see how these situations multiply. Somebody might be telling an entire fable about somebody and say, You know what they did? Oh, they are so this, they are so that. And you have something to add to that, too, and you are just chomping at the bit. Oh, yeah, well, you think that’s bad? I know this about them, huh. I can outdo you in that. I know how really rotten he is because…… Well, if that first one was a complete calumny, then, the second one would be ten times worse and it would be bad in any case.
And, finally, the best thing is just keep silent. They say in Spanish, En boca cerrada no entran moscas, Flies don’t go into a shut mouth. Okay? And that’s true. And neither do lies or detraction or calumny come out of a shut mouth, unless you know sign language. Okay? So, the best thing you can do in many situations is don’t say anything at all. And this helps not only with detraction, but also with little lies that we tell. Because often people will say, Well, I told this little lie to get out of the situation. Or I told this little lie so I wouldn’t hurt somebody’s feelings. What would it have done if you had just kept your mouth shut? You wouldn’t have lied and the same thing would have been accomplished. The person wouldn’t have had their feelings hurt or anything like that. You can change the subject and talk about the wonderful weather we’re having all of a sudden, with the beautiful cool winds and no more of that heat. And that will take their mind right off it, because they might not like the weather. They may say, It’s too cold for me, but, in any case, it will take your mind and the conversation off of whatever it was on before. So, in most cases, just keep your mouth shut.
So, my dear faithful, today’s epistle is particularly beautiful. Every line has some kind of advice or recommendation or wisdom for living the Catholic life. Please look it up and read it during this week.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Lesson from the Epistle of blessed Paul the Apostle to the Colossians. Brethren: Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience; bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection: and let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Jesus Christ our Lord.