Avoiding ‘Casual False Witness’
“The Lord is more anxious to forgive our sins than a woman is to carry her baby out of a burning building.“ ~ Saint John Vianney
“It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man,” Jesus tells the ritually-obsessed Pharisees and scribes that badger him in today’s Gospel (Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14), “but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one“ (15:11). With this lesson, Jesus reminds us that our words are powerful, whether we choose to acknowledge that fact or not. As Pearl Strachan Hurd once said with regard to the words we speak “Handle them carefully, for they have more power then atom bombs.”
In his recent essay “Dismantling the Myth,”’ Spencer York tackles the fallacy that Pope Pius XII was in essence complicit in his support of the Holocaust, earning the title of “Hitler’s Pope.” Recently, the Washington Post ran an article repeating this long since disproven claim, ignoring Pius’ actions, contemporary reactions, the historical context of the 1930s and 40s as well as his encyclical Summi Pontificatus among other things in the process. Pope Pius XII’s record as Vatican Secretary of State and Pope, both in terms of words and tactics, reveal clearly that this dishonest notion of him being “Hitler’s Pope“ is one that should finally be put to rest. I have no doubt that it has kept him from joining the Communion of Saints, an honor he rightly deserves. Pope Benedict XVI did however declare him venerable in the year 2009, so there remains reason for hope and optimism as it relates to his canonization. Hope that justice will soon prevail.
Recently, Saint Junipero Serra fell victim to a similar fate, tarred and feathered with an accusation that would appear to be the last remaining mortal sin in our off-the-rails progressive culture. Yes, he was called a racist https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/More-Knowledge-Less-Outrage.
Last week, a New York City Congresswoman accused a Roman Catholic Priest and Member of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary named Father Damien of being a “white supremacist.” What was his crime you ask? Well, Father Damien was part of a missionary religious institute, the aforementioned Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, that treated and cared for a large leper colony that was quarantined by way of a government mandate on the Kalaupapa Peninsula of Moloka’i in Hawaii from 1873-1889. Given the highly contagious nature of leprosy, it’s an unspoken reality that anyone who devotes their life to the treatment of those afflicted by this insidious disease will eventually contract it and die, which was to be Father Damien’s fate in the year 1889.
Misguided and fundamentally evil people will of course always bear false witness against those whom they dislike and disagree with; God’s Commandments mean nothing to them. But today’s Gospel affords each of us the opportunity to reflect upon our words and whether or not we are remaining impeccable with regard to the use of them. Our words have energy. They possess, as Yehuda Berg likes to point out “the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” A single kind word can change a person’s entire day. Hurtful words on the other hand, words that can take a mere 10 seconds to say, can create wounds that linger for 10 years.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast Day of a truly remarkable man, Saint John Vianney https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=399. A tireless confessors who believed wholeheartedly in the power of prayer and devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary, Saint John Vianney’s heart has remained incorrupt since his death on this date in 1859. His selfless love for others was legendary. “Consider then,” he once said “the magnitude of these sufferings which the souls in Purgatory endure; and the means which we have of mitigating them: our prayers, our good works, and above all, the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”
Never one to be confused with the great scholars of the Church, Saint John Vianney relied on clarity and simplicity. Pray for others. Attend Mass as often as you can. Cultivate a love for and devotion to Mary. These remain our most effective and prudent spiritual weapons today, just as they will until the very moment that Jesus comes again.
Ever quotable, I leave you with perhaps my favorite of Saint John Vianney’s memorable tips for living a life rooted in the Spirit of Christ: “The Devil writes down our sins, our Guardian Angel all our merits. . . labor that the Guardian Angel's book may be full, and the Devil's empty.”
Saint John Vianney, pray for us.
For more on this Gospel Passage as told through the eyes of Saint Mark, please click on the following link: