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“Ask a Priest: Should I Steer Clear of Kin in Order to Avoid Gossip?”
Q: I understand that putting yourself in a near occasion of sin is sinful, but I’m having trouble understanding this in a subjective way. For example, when I go to my grandparents’ house, gossip/detraction/calumny tend to start happening in my presence. Knowing this, does that make it a sin for me to go to my grandparents’ house since it could be an occasion of sin for me? Obviously, it isn’t inherently evil for me to go to my grandparents’ house, as it would be for me to go to an indecent club, but does it now become evil, due to the circumstances? Another example is playing video games with my cousin. My cousin is my best friend whom I used to see nearly every day, but now since he lives out of town the only time for me to talk and hang out with him is over video games. Sometimes I fall into sin when I’m talking with him, whether it be gossip, impure jokes, etc. Is this also a near occasion of sin, and is it a sin if I play video games with my cousin? I ask this question with these two examples, because if it is a sin for me to see my grandparents or play video games with my cousin, then that means I have to take out ways of connecting with my family, which is almost life changing and scary. I couldn’t imagine not going to see my grandparents anymore or not talking to my cousin/best friend anymore. – H.B.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s good that you are asking these questions. It shows that you are listening to your conscience.
The solution here isn’t to cut yourself off from your relatives. That’s neither practical nor desirable. We have a natural need to live within some kind of community, and that usually starts with the family.
On the other hand, the solution isn’t to be passive or to let things slide into the muck.
Rather, the solution includes being proactive in changing the course of conversations.
When conversations start to turn negative, try to interject a positive comment. Try, for instance, to say something nice about a person who is being criticized. Or steer the conversation onto another topic. And of course, never initiate gossip or off-color jokes.
If you do this often enough, people will start to pick up what is going on. That might prompt them to rethink what they are talking about.
Gossip, detraction, calumny — whatever shade of negativity they might be — are acids that can corrode families, communities and even nations.
The Catechism in No. 2477 says:
“Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
“– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
“– of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
“– of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.”
One definition of gossip is “A report (often malicious) about the behavior of other people.”
Few people realize how serious these kinds of sins can be; for these offenses can destroy a person’s good name.
Steering conversations into healthier terrain would especially be helpful with your cousin. Presumably he is closer to your age, so you have more control over the situation. This is where you can and need to bring your beliefs to bear.
If need be, you might think about having a frank discussion with him. You might let him know you are sorry that you led him into bad conversations and how that offended God.
It might shock your cousin, but it might edify him. Either way, you’ll let him know upfront the direction in which you want to go. At least he will know where you stand.
In general, cultivating that habit of speaking well of others will serve you well and give glory to God. And giving glory to the Almighty is what the spiritual life is all about.
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