The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.
One thing that demoralizes a parish is how the parishioners speak about their pastor, staff and about one another. Gossip can be devastating — and not just to attendance and finances — but also to our Gospel mission to be a people of tolerance and forgiveness.
As you listen to the Gospel for this weekend, look around you. Sitting in your congregation is someone who, on a regular basis, uses backbiting and whisper campaigns in a way that is extremely harmful to your parish.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the person you are looking for may actually be yourself.
Jesus gives us a very precise way to deal with someone with whom we have a conflict: Speak to them first.
As a member of your parish community, how do you deal with disagreements with your pastor, parish staff or other parish members? Do you talk to them or do you choose to talk about them behind their backs? Maybe you sent an anonymous letter, a nasty email or tweeted about them to 300 of your closest friends. Perhaps you have even penned a letter to the bishop.
It seems that we seldom have the courage to go directly to anyone else, with kindness and respect, and tell them that we are in disagreement with them, or that what they said or did to us was hurtful. It takes courage to say to another, “What you said (or did) has given me a lot to think and pray about. Can we get together soon and talk about this?”
Of course, if we are not willing to talk to the person directly, maybe the problem isn’t even big enough to worry about. On the other hand, there are some issues that are so serious that we need to skip individual confrontation and immediately enlist the help of others.
We have a responsibility for the common good. If you know someone who is abusing children, has expressed suicidal thoughts, is in the grips of alcohol or drug addiction, is vindictive or irrational, it is our responsibility to seek out others who can help them. This, too, can be done with respect for the person’s reputation and privacy. The Gospel tells us to bring the entire church into a matter — and this would include our need to gossip about our “concerns” to others — only when all other avenues have been tried.
There is one thing that each of us can do when we find ourselves in conflict with another person: pray. Don’t pray about the other person. Pray for them. When we pray for another, and pray about our perception of them, we bring the situation firmly to the foot of the cross.
Look around you. The church is the gathered people of God. God wants the best for each of us. We must bind our community together in charity, relate to one another in goodness, support each other and help each other on our way to God, for Jesus is here, in our midst.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.