"Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known."
Hmmm…really? If that is the case, I’d better start watching pretty carefully what I say in secret. Despite my resolutions to the contrary, it is too easy behind closed doors to make comments about others that I would never say to them in person.
I grew up that way. Mine is a large and loving family, yet we have an unfortunate habit of talking about other people behind their backs. More than once, I was the last person to know that several siblings were angry with me over something, because they spent months talking about it together without telling me. Even today, the amount of "secret" talk (sometimes bordering on gossip) in the family circle can be substantial.
But what happens when secrets are revealed? Inevitably, people are hurt on both sides, and sometimes the consequences are devastating. People in my family have certainly been hurt. In the public sphere, respected figures are forced to resign when "offline" comments are captured by an errant microphone, and we regularly hear stories of people feeling betrayed when another’s true feelings, motivations, or actions can no longer be hidden.
On another level, too, every time I hear those around me speak negatively about another person in their absence, it makes me wonder who I can trust. Are people really being honest with me, or are they saying things to make me feel good while offering their true opinion to others out of my hearing? If they talk about others that way behind their backs, what are they saying about me behind mine? Am I being ridiculed in ways I don’t even realize?
Then I catch myself saying negative things about another person to someone else, and I have to ask myself the same questions. How accountable am I and with how much integrity do I speak? How often do I destroy just a bit of someone’s soul, a bit of their reputation, behind their back? What purpose do I serve when I complain without going to the person and discussing it face to face? If someone would feel hurt or offended by my comments, why am I saying them? How often do I build up the Reign of God with my private remarks, and how often do I tear it down?
As Jesus reminds us, each person is counted. Each word is heard. Each attitude is recorded. Those people about whom I speak are more precious than a thousand sparrows. When I denigrate people behind their backs, there is no good excuse. I can only stand before God and say "Woe is me! I am a person of unclean lips."
It is a hard habit to break, but I am working on it. With today’s readings echoing in my ears, I pray the angel’s burning charcoal may purge my mouth, heart, and mind, that one day soon I will not be embarrassed or ashamed to have anyone hear in person what I said about them in private.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.