In her book Rooted in Love, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle talks about being a “virtuous presence” in the workplace and community. In so doing, she talks about how gossip can interfere with our ability to be such a virtuous presence.
I was struck by O’Boyle’s quotation from Fr. Michael Gateley, who said, “Gossip and envy are especially effective at hardening hearts because of the way they twist our emotional responses to the suffering of others…Instead of feeling sorry for someone who suffers, gossip and envy get us to rejoice and delight over his suffering.”
Gatele’s words ring true to me. The problem with gossip is not only what it does to the other person – although the effects on the subject of gossip can themselves be quite serious. Gossip can lead to harm to the other’s reputation and cause them emotional pain.
But, as Gateley’s words suggest, the activity also does something to the person engaging in the gossip, twisting our emotional responses, hardening our hearts to the needs and sufferings of others.
It is a useful point to keep in mind because gossip is one of those things it is so easy to fall into doing. It can seem so light, but what starts as looking like harmless fun can grow into something that hardens us.
No matter how seriously we are committed to a spiritual path, our ego gets in the way sometimes. Our concern with building up our ego can cause us to envy the accomplishments of others rather than rejoice in them and it can put our focus (consciously or unconsciously) on making ourselves look good or important.
This is nothing new – Jesus’ disciples were no different from us in this regard. In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, we find the disciples arguing “about which of them was the greatest.” Then they complain to Jesus that there are others who are doing things in His name who are not part of their group.
What we forget at times, and what the disciples forgot at times, is that it is not about us. It is about accomplishing the task to which we have been appointed by Jesus. It is about furthering God’s plan of salvation, a plan in which each of us has a unique and necessary role.
When we remember that it is about God and God’s plan and not about us, it is a lot easier to understand that what matters is that the plan be fulfilled, not that we have a bigger role than others. When we remember it is about God and God’s plan and not about us, we can rejoice in others’ efforts to further the fulfillment of that plan rather than being envious.
We all can use a reminder now and then to keep our focus on God’s plan and God’s glory and not our own.
In today’s Gospel, the conclusion of St. John’s Gospel, as Peter is walking with Jesus, Peter turns and sees John following them. Peter asks, “Lord, what about him?” and Jesus answers, with what I imagine to have been a rebuking tone, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
Although it is easy for us to chide Peter – he does, after all, seem to blow it time and time again during Jesus’ time on earth – he is not really all that different from us. We so often spend time worrying about the other guy. What is someone else getting? Even when we are getting what we want or need, we’re peering over, checking to see if someone else is getting more. Does he have a better place in line than I do? Is her piece of cake larger than mine?
We do it with spiritual things as well, possessing a kind of spiritual envy or jeolousy. Is someone else’s prayer better than my prayer? Are they further along the spiritual path than I am? Is their relationship with God closer than my relationship with God?
Jesus’ response to Peter is the response to all of us: That’s not your business. You follow me; that’s your business. It is not for you to worry about what the other person is getting from me. Look to our relationship.