SPIRITUAL LIFE DICTIONARY
TODAY'S TERM: DETRACTION
I recently heard and excellent homily concerning the sin of detraction. This homily is a good reminder for us to be on guard against the sins we commit against our neighbor and the harm that our words can cause another. For clarification, keep in mind that the sin of calumny involves telling lies about another person. The sin of detraction involves revealing the hidden faults of another that seriously damage that person's reputation. Detraction is a sin against the virtues of Justice and Charity.
It's sad that in our weak and sinful human nature, we resort to revealing the faults and failings of family members, friends, and coworkers in order to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others. Sometimes, when there is not much to talk about, instead of talking about what the Lord has done for us, we end up talking about others behind their back. How many times have we spiritually "thrown someone under the bus" when they were not present? How many people involved in that conversation defended the party who was not present? Perhaps someone in the conversation uttered those not-so-wise words, "But, it's true, so it's not gossip,!" to justify their sin. Reading the definition of this sin and listening to the homily will be a wake-up call for many of us.
Here is the definition of detraction from a Catholic dictionary:
Covers those sins commonly referred to as uncharitable talk; it is unjustly depriving another of his good name behind his back, either by calumny or by saying that which is true; in the latter case there is no right to publish what is true against him without just cause if it is not publicly known, for every man has a right to his good reputation so long as he can retain it. But for a just cause (e.g., the public good, or to protect the innocent) the secret sin of another may be made known. The degree of seriousness of detraction is in accordance with the harm done to the person detracted and the malice of the speaker; being a sin against justice as well as charity it leaves an obligation of making restitution as far as possible. He who by listening to detraction encourages it actively or passively sins equally with the detractor.
A Catholic Dictionary by Donal Attwater
Although we have focused on the person who is guilty of detraction, let's not forget that perhaps we, ourselves, have been the victim of someone speaking about our faults. Let us remember that to grow in virtue, we can accept this humiliation and unite ourselves with Our Lord who was often humiliated in this way. We can read the lives of the saints to learn how they handled similar situations. Most saints were ready and willing to reveal their faults and failings to the entire world, such was their humility. If we want to be saints we must be willing at all times to put others in a good light and to "Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them. "
(Ephesians 4:29) As Secular Carmelites, we can look to our Holy Mother, St. Teresa. She writes over and over again about the spiritual harm that comes to souls that seek "honor" and a good name.
If we are devastated by the things others say about us and lose peace over what people think about us, I'm afraid we still have a long way to go in the spiritual life. Let us persevere in prayer which brings self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is the truth that is revealed to us, about us, from the Holy Spirit. Although this may be painful at times, He gives us the grace to persevere and not to despair. He strengthens us so that in time, the hurtful and sinful things people say about us will never disturb our interior peace, for our aim is to please God and not man.
Homily: The Sin of Detraction
Let us pray for each other!