“Ask a Priest: Should Gossip Keep Me From Receiving Communion?”

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Q: I frequently go to confession, confessing the same sin (gossip) with the intention of not falling again. I am never quite sure if it is mortal or venial, as I am just mostly complaining about my kids. My question is since I still receive Communion at Mass in between my failings, am I committing a greater sin? I received Communion yesterday and didn’t think of it then. – M.K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Unless you are complaining in some fire-breathing, hate-filled way, or unless you are posting on Facebook about your 20-something “kids” and their immoral lifestyles, it’s likely that your offense is venial.

This would include things such as complaining to a sister about the way your 10-year-old leaves the kitchen a mess.

Messy kitchens are not end-of-the-world stuff. It’s part of the normal tensions within families. And your complaining about it wouldn’t be a reason for staying away from Communion.

Nevertheless, it’s good that you are confessing what you perceive to be sins against charity. If you are confessing the sin of gossip frequently, that is a sign that it is a dominant bad habit in your life.

One way to effectively combat a bad habit is to work on the opposite virtue.

In practice that means trying to speaking well of others. It also means not complaining to someone who isn’t in a position to do something about a problem. Otherwise you would be venting pointlessly.

How would this habit of speaking well of others look in your life?

Perhaps you could reserve your negative comments about the kids to your spouse, who might be in a position to help you form the children in better habits. There is no need to tell the relatives and neighbors about your kids’ shortcomings.

It could mean internally counting to 10 before speaking, whenever you feel tempted to unleash a barrage of criticism. That pause might give you a chance to catch yourself and refrain from saying something you will later regret.

Primarily, you want to learn to focus on the positive.

Instead of stewing about the 10-year-old who left the kitchen a mess for the umpteenth time, just wait for a moment for calm to return and say, “Joey, could you help clean up the kitchen? I need to do the laundry since dad is all out of shirts.” Or, “Joey, I’m glad you put your cereal bowl in the dishwasher. Could you do the same with the other things in the sink?”

And then speak positively to your husband later within earshot of your son. “Joey was a big help in the kitchen this morning …” You get the idea.

To dig a little more into the virtues and vices linked to our words, you might find it helpful to read my colleague Father Bartunek’s booklet, Sharpening Your Tongue: A Regnum Christi Essay on Charity in Our Words.

Cultivating the habit of speaking well of others will be a great way to form your children, and it will go a long way to producing an atmosphere of love and respect in the home. Which will be one more thing to be grateful for when you receive Communion.

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