The Chains of Calumny and Detraction
“The tongue of the scandalmonger is like the worm which gnaws at the good fruit, that is, the best actions that people do, and tries to turn them all to bad account. The tongue of the scandalmonger is a grub which taints the most beautiful of the flowers and upon them leaves behind it the disgusting trace of its own slime.”
This quote is from St. John Marie Vianney when he was speaking about those who spread rumors and gossip about their neighbor. Such gossip can be defined by two words, calumny and detraction. The sins of calumny and detraction are very harmful to the soul, and are so easily committed in our modern world. But what are the exact definitions of calumny and detraction?
In the Catholic Encyclopedia, calumny is defined as: “Any form of ruse or fraud employed to deceive another, particularly in judicial proceedings. In its more commonly accepted signification it means the unjust damaging of the good name of another by imputing to him a crime or fault of which he is not guilty.”
And detraction is defined as, “The unjust damaging of another's good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer.”
In other words, calumny is when you tell others lies about your neighbor's reputation, and detraction is when you use something the person is guilty of to harm their reputation.
St. John Marie Vianney compares such sins to when worms gnaw at fruit. The reason for this is because when we gossip, we are harming the part of our neighbor that can be very difficult to heal – their name. Every person has a right to their reputation and good name, and as Catholics we should always be aware of what we say of others and how we treat them. Each soul we come across is a reflection of God, and an opportunity to either offer up an act of love to Him or betray Him. Let us then focus on what we can do to fight these vices and grow in holiness.
Charity as a Beautiful Virtue
Though charity can be difficult at times, especially if our neighbor is testing our patience, it is a beautiful virtue that will help us grow in sanctity. St. Albert the Great says: "It is by the path of love, which is charity, that God draws near to man, and man to God. But where charity is not found, God cannot dwell. If, then, we possess charity, we possess God, for ‘God is Charity’.” (1 John 4:8)
Because God is love, and created us all out of infinite love, He desires us to also love one another and help each other reach eternal happiness in Heaven. Our neighbors do have their faults, but so do we. And every time we are charitable to them, and offer up the times when it is difficult, God will take our acts of love and use them to draw us closer to His Sacred Heart as well as help us grow in virtue.
Charity towards our neighbor helps us with patience, humility, and many other virtue. In times of difficulty let us pray for the grace of charity and humility, so that no matter who we come into contact with we will be able to see a beautiful creation of God and treat them as God’s wills us to treat them.
When we are trying to do our best to grow in charity, it is important to be watchful in what we say, how we act, and the way we associate with others. It is one thing to be careful with speaking negatively against someone, but another thing when those around us are speaking uncharitably. St. Francis de Sales says: “When you hear ill of anyone, refute the accusation if you can in justice do so; if not, apologize for the accused on account of his intentions … and thus gently check the conversation, and if you can, mention something else favorable to the accused.”
St. Francis de Sales has a great perspective on when we hear someone being spoken of poorly. Mentioning a kind remark, or even managing to change the conversation is extremely helpful, and will always help in protecting someone’s name. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we should burn with the desire to protect their reputation just as we would with our own. It may not be easy at times, especially if we do not get along with someone, but the more difficult the act is, the greater God will help us.
When It Happens to Us
Even if we try our best to be kind and generous, a time may come when someone will desire to tarnish our reputation. They may bring up the past or make up a false story entirely, but let this not dishearten us. We should pray that God gives us a perfect balance of being able to defend our reputation, as well as being humble if we have been given this cross.
Our Lord Himself, who was perfect in every way was spat upon and crucified! If others are putting us down and we feel the weight of our crosses on our shoulders, Jesus will be waiting to strengthen and support us in our pursuit for sanctity. When God gives us a particular cross to carry, He never makes us carry our crosses alone. In fact if we did not have God helping us, we would not be able to walk even the shortest distance.
St. Ignatius of Loyola once said: “If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.”
Every moment of suffering in our lives is an opportunity for holiness, merit, and offering of love to the Most High. Our time on earth is short, and if we are going through hard times it is simply a sign that God wants us to be great saints.
So when people attack our name and reputation, let us defend ourselves tactfully, offer up all that we can, as well as always keep in mind to surround ourselves with people who will lift us up rather than pull us down. If we place ourselves in the hands of those who do not care for us and our well-being, it will be much more difficult to live a life of peace in the presence of God. On the contrary, time well spent in Catholic company, with those who are walking the narrow path with us, will be much more beneficial to our well-being and spiritual lives.
Let us always pray for the grace of humility and discernment when situations are difficult. God will give us all the inspiration we need if we pray for the grace and depend on His infinite and eternal love.