Very timely stuff from my own wonderful parish priest! I guess this topic always is timely . . .
Children, Love One Another: On Charitable Speech and Slander (Part 1)
Let Us Suspect the Best and Never the Worst: On Charitable Speech and Slander (Part 2)
The Most Valuable Worldly Possession: One’s Good Name: On Charitable Speech and Slander (Part 3)
*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***
The Catechism obliges us to respect the reputation of other people, whether we think they may be good or evil persons. We therefore are forbidden to judge others rashly and to speak ill of others without objectively valid reasons (CCC 2475-2487). Sometimes we are tempted to speak of the real moral faults of another person; this is called detraction. Other times we are tempted to lie or misrepresent the truth regarding the moral faults of others; this is called slander or calumny. In this series, when I discuss slander, I use it in a more global sense, encompassing slander properly speaking, but detraction and calumny, too.
It is grave matter against the eighth commandment to speak ill of another, meaning matter of mortal sin if it is done with knowledge and consent. So talking in your sleep doesn't count. It is so common, so prevalent, so all-pervasive, so typical, so standard in families, workplaces, groups, schools, etc., that it may surprise us that such sins are mortal, but indeed they are, and they need to be confessed.
St. Francis writes, "Slander is a form of murder. We have three kinds of life: spiritual, which consists in God's grace, corporeal, which depends on the body and soul, and social, which consists in our good name. Sin deprives us of the first kind of life, death takes away the second, and slander the third."
He later quotes St. Bernard as having said, "The one who slanders and the one who listens to a slanderer have the devil in their company - one man has Satan on the tongue and the other in his ear." (On the Canticle of Canticles, 24, 3).
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There is an unexplainable inclination we suffer from to not believe the good we hear about others but yet to eagerly believe the bad and even tell others of our beliefs. Still more, our tongue externally often goes down the same road what we think internally. This inclination is a child of original sin, and a part of concupiscence. It's root is, in most cases, pride; . . .
. . . The Saint writes, "My daughter, I entreat you never speak evil of any, either directly or indirectly; beware of ever unjustly imputing sins or faults to your neighbor, of needlessly disclosing his real faults, of exaggerating such as are overt, of attributing wrong motives to good actions, of denying the good that you know to exist in another, of maliciously concealing it, or depreciating it in conversation." (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 29.)
. . . The reason we must not be suspicious of another's good intentions is that to do so is really a form of bearing false witness against our neighbor, a grave sin against God, prohibited by natural law and divine revelation in the Ten Commandments.
The temptation to suspect secret evil when we see public good may have a handful of proximate causes. Maybe we ourselves always move selfishly, so it is impossible for us to imagine others may do good selflessly. Maybe we like to think of ourselves as better than others, and cannot stand to see others in the humble glory of their good deeds. Perhaps we imagine that we, not Christ, are the savior of others, and when others heed my wisdom, they will be saved from one evil or another. Perhaps we act so out of revenge, or out of habit, or simply out of bitterness that things didn't go our own way.
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"He who unjustly takes away his neighbor's good name is guilty of sin, and is bound to make reparation, according to the nature of his evil speaking; since no man can enter into Heaven cumbered with stolen goods, and of all worldly possessions the most precious is a good name." (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 29)
. . . I know of no one who would simply get up from the sofa one day with a metal stick, only to go out and randomly trash someone's automobile: break its windows, disfigure its body, bust its tires, scratch plenty of the painting, destroy the upholstery, and when he was done, then set fire to it . . . just because he "felt like it" at that moment. We would consider such a person mad.
Yet a good name is worth far more than a million dollar car. That said, we find souls who "feel like it," and do worse to their neighbor's good name than the mad man did to the car.
There are even those poor souls who feel a compulsion to slander and detract. They are nearly incapable of speaking about anything at all, without dragging their neighbor's good name through the slime. This is a vice, a habit of mortal sin, and such persons would do themselves a great favor to examine the causes, confess frequently, and work on acquiring the habit of speaking well of others, be they friend or foe.
Each one of us has so much good. It is not hard to speak well of another person, except if someone has the habit and compulsion to do otherwise. How much good it does to souls when we speak well of others. By speaking well of others, we can encourage each other do to what is good, to aspire to good things, to admire and love one another, to overcome our sins and defects, and to aspire to the highest goods especially the supernatural ones, like the theological virtues or the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Little children, love one another!