Imagine you’re on the top of a 10-story buildilng on a bright, windy spring afternoon.  In your hands you hold a large bag full of feathers.  You lean over the railing and empty out the feathers into the gusting winds.  As you watch, they take flight on the breeze and are carried far and wide into the city below.  The larger feathers travel a few hundred feet onto streets and cars, buses and rooftops.  Smaller ones drift for blocks before resting on balconies, in gardens, on sidewalks and in treetops.  The smallest feathers float out of sight like snowflakes, borne aloft on the breeze, flying so far that you never see them come to earth.  Now imagine trying to gather all those feathers back again into your bag.  It would be impossible, wouldn’t it?  You’d never be able to find them all—once set free on the breeze, most of them would be gone forever.
These feathers are like gossip.  Once the words have been spoken, they are out of our control, they travel on the breezes of our community discourse and we can never get them back even if we want to.  We can never undo the damage that our untrue words can cause to reputations, spirits, community, families, relationships, and churches.  Like the feathers, our words take flight in conversations and comments, slipping subtly into the casual chatter at a parish potluck, or shared over coffee at a ministry meeting.  The damage gossip can do in a church can’t be over-emphasized.  It tears at the very fabric of our connections to one another as the family of Christ.  Like a knife, it can shred our faith in the pastor by twisting his motives, discrediting his character, and undermining confidence in him.  Malicious talk can damage anyone in the church, but the pastor is slander’s most devastating target.  Moses’ enemies murmured behind his back.  No longer could St. Paul’s converts hear him speak or read his letters without wondering if perhaps his detractors might be right after all.  Doubt takes root in the garden of faith.  In a church family, members wonder if the rumors they’ve heard might be true.  Hidden factions and alliances form. New people somehow sense the undercurrent of dissension.  Disunity begets spiritual malaise and the church suffers from a persistent low-grade infection.  Slander despoils the Body of Christ.  Sadly, some of the sheep never find their way back to the fold after the ugliness of gossip and rumors.  Instead they wander without food eventually to weaken and die or be eaten by wolves.
Gossip and slander are serious sins.  They deaden the heart to charity and truth.  They are most often born from a need to help protect or enrich ourselves at the expense of someone else.  Sometimes the motive for initiating or sharing gossip or slander can be quite subtle.  We talk about fellow parishioners or the pastor under the pretense of “being concerned” or “sharing the burden” when deep inside we feel smug or even gleeful at the detraction caused by our words.  Maybe we felt slighted by them, demoted by them, or overlooked by them…and our hateful words are the product of our angry attempts to get them back.  Once spoken, our gossip and rumors are like those feathers on the breeze—out of our control, never to be undone.  Before that happens, you need to ask yourself these questions:  Is the story true and helpful and necessary?  How would you feel if the subject of the story discovered you’d told it?  Is it going to damage a reputation or relationship?  Would you say these words to the person’s face?  And perhaps most importantly–why do you want to tell this story?  As members of His Body, we’re called to build one another up, to encourage one another on the journey.  If we were more like Christ, more filled with His love and compassion, hearing gossip would always bring sadness and tears, not a feeling of joy or self-justification.  Imagine the miracles we could work with uplifting words that reflect our true inheritance as children of God—words as beautiful as the feathers from the wings of His heavenly angels.
“I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words will you be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”   (Matthew 12:36-37)

Your Cross

We all have one.  Mine is different from yours.  Most of us have more than one.  Some are bigger than others.  Some are tiny, but very very painful.  Some are so huge they seem impossible to bear.  Some are obvious, but many are hidden from view.  What are they?  They’re our hurts and pains, our sufferings, and our burdens.  They’re the wounds we all carry each day.  Some are physical like an illness or injury.  Others are addictions or compulsions.  Still others are the emotional pains of mental illness or the damage done by an abusive relationship.  Many times we’ve caused the pain ourselves.  Fear, anger, bitterness, jealousy—a broken heart.  These are our crosses.  Jesus carried a heavy wooden cross to Golgotha.  He told us if we want to be His disciples, we have to deny ourselves, pick up our own crosses, and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
Catholics aren’t afraid of the Cross of Christ.  Every Catholic church in the world has a crucifix displayed prominently near the altar.  My own parish church  has a near-lifesize crucifix behind the altar.  The large wooden cross with the dying Christ nailed to it dominates our sanctuary space.  It’s not merely an ornament or decoration.  Neither does it reflect a morbid fascination with death or physical pain.  The Cross of Christ is Love.  Our crucifix is a constant and holy reminder to us of Jesus’ great love for us.  Carried in His arms and across His flayed and bleeding back, the Cross became salvation for the world.  His invitation to us is to embrace our sufferings and to unite our pain with His.  This is love embracing Love.  “When the Cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and total self-giving.  To carry it behind Christ means to be united with Him in offering the greatest proof of love,” wrote Pope John Paul II.  There’s no greater proof of God’s love for us than Jesus’ own suffering and death for our sake.
Everyday life for each of us is full of crosses we can carry behind our Lord.  You know what yours are just as I know my own.  We carry them in union with Jesus, as He leads the way for us.  He is our model.  He invites us to follow His example, to share in His life and in His choices—to stake our life for the love of God and neighbor.  This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the Colossians “who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His Body, which is the Church” (1:24). Any of our sufferings can be prayerfully united with Christ’s own Passion and Death.  This is redemptive suffering, or what Catholics mean when they say, “I’m offering it up.”  What we are offering up is to share in Jesus’ suffering out of thanksgiving and love for Him.  This unity is part of our personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Eucharist which lies at the heart of our Catholic faith.  He is our first Love.  We claim a share of His Life in all His fullness of divinity and humanity.  As much as our Love calls us to meet Him in the manger at Bethlehem, we’re also drawn to meet Him at Calvary and later, at the empty tomb, or the road to Emmaus.  Being Catholic means walking with Christ every day, faithfully assured that He opens up for us His way of life and abundant love.  Suffering is necessarily a part of that faith journey for us, just as it was for Him.  Yet no one knows more about my crosses, my pains, my sins than Jesus Christ.  When I see a crucifix, I see Love’s arms open wide, embracing all my pain, forgiving all my sin.  My crosses seem so small in comparison.
“Suffering is a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the Cross that He can kiss us and He can show that He is in love with us by giving us an opportunity to share in His Passion.”                
     —Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

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