WelCom February 2019:
John A. Cardinal Dew, Archbishop of Wellington
Greetings to all WelCom readers and every good wish and blessing for 2019.
On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday 13 January 2019, I read and ended up praying with, what to me was, a magnificent reflection for that day. Basically, the author was saying that over Christmas and New Year we spend a great deal of time and energy wishing others ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy New Year’, ‘Seasons Greetings’, and giving many other messages in which we wish people joy, peace and happiness. The author then connected this with the Baptism of the Lord and the voice that came from heaven saying: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you’ (Luke 3: 22).
Here is where the connection with Christmas and New Year greetings comes into play. He was suggesting if we put so much time and energy into those Christmas-New Year greetings we could also do the same on the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism and throughout the year – greeting one another as ‘beloved daughters and sons of God’. I was so impressed by this that I have been trying to do just that; to stop and reflect and to remember that whoever I am dealing with is ‘a beloved daughter or son of God’.
My motto as a bishop is ‘Peace through Integrity’ (Baruch 5:4). I am therefore always interested when Scripture Readings speak of ‘integrity’. On Sunday 20 January the Prophet Isaiah did speak of just that when speaking of Jerusalem: ‘her integrity shines out like the dawn and her salvation flames like a torch. The nations will see your integrity…’ (Isaiah (62: 1-2). I believe for us to act with integrity we could be helped by trying always to think of others as ‘a beloved daughter or son of God’.
As I was thinking about all of this and preparing this WelCom column, I read the message of Pope Francis’ General Audience of 16 January. He returned to a message he has given consistently over the last almost six years. He warned the faithful in St Peter’s Square that, ‘We all live by communicating, and we are continuously on the edge between truth and lies.’ He then repeated his warnings about those who gossip, and once again denounced it, saying gossip, ‘kills because the tongue kills like a knife’. He went on to use very strong words: ‘Gossipers are terrorists because with their tongues they drop a bomb and then leave, and the bomb they drop destroys reputations everywhere’.
It is interesting the Pope speaks so much about ‘not gossiping’. If we do engage in gossip then we are not acting with integrity, and we are not treating or respecting others as beloved daughters and sons of God.
“If we engage in gossip we are not acting with integrity, and we are not treating or respecting others as beloved daughters and sons of God.”
There are always temptations to gossip and to talk about other people and about what is happening or not happening in the parishes or around the Archdiocese. I am always very surprised when I am given information about what someone has done (or not done), or what I have supposedly given someone permission to do. Sometimes it is about what I have been reported as saying is not allowed to happen, when in fact I have never said a word about it. Naturally there will be times when people ‘get the wrong end of the stick’, and information is spread around without it being checked. That is understandable but checking out the facts is easy enough to do. Whether those facts are about something in the parish, or about an individual, a person’s reputation can easily be ruined by wrong information being given, and it is worse if it is just malicious gossip.
Just after Easter last year
(4 April 2108) Pope Francis spoke on the same topic and encouraged us to leave Mass praising God, not gossiping about others. He reminded us the final words at Mass – ‘Go in peace’ – are an invitation to Christians to proclaim God’s blessings through their lives; not an opportunity to go outside and speak ill of others. Pope Francis said, ‘But if we leave the church gossiping, saying: “Look at this one, look at that one”, with a loose tongue, the Mass has not entered into my heart.’ He said, ‘Every time I leave Mass, I must leave better than when I entered, with more life, with greater strength, with a greater desire to give Christian witness.’
“A parish where there is no gossip is a perfect parish.”
At this time two years ago (15 January 2017), the Pope addressed the same issue. He was in a parish on the outskirts of Rome where he celebrated Mass and warned parishioners, as he often does, of the harm gossiping does to a community. He spoke about reading the Gospels and seeing that ‘we have a lot of sins’, including betrayal and jealousy, ‘but there is one I don’t find: in the early Church they weren’t gossipers, they didn’t talk badly about others, they didn’t speak badly about each other. No,’ the Pope said.
If we genuinely want to act with integrity, if we really want to see every person we interact as ‘a beloved daughter or son of God’ there is no room for gossip, rumours or speculation. Not respecting and keeping confidentiality is another way someone’s reputation can be ruined, or wrong information being spread around a community. Nobody is perfect, we are sinners, we fail, but we can make an effort.
For me, the idea of extending Christmas and New Year greetings through the year by recognising the dignity every person has as a beloved daughter or son of God is something that is helping me. In that message of two years ago, Pope Francis invited parishioners to make a commitment to hold their tongues whenever they feel tempted to gossip, because ‘a parish where there is no gossip is a perfect parish. It’s parish of sinners, yes, but of witnesses, and this is the witness given by the first Christians.’
Maybe this following prayer will help us to act with integrity and to see everyone as a ‘beloved daughter or son of God’.
Cardinal John in Rome
From 6–27 February 2019, Cardinal John will be attending meetings in Rome. As a member of the Council of the Congregation for Divine Worship, he will take part in their plenary session. He will represent the New Zealand Bishops at the meeting Pope Francis has called of representatives of bishops’ conferences and religious orders to address abuse and the protection of minors. He will also represent the New Zealand Bishops at a meeting of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the body that handles translations of the Missal and other texts.