Column: Don’t be mean in what you say

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

“Wow, Father, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone get that red before.”

So said a parishioner last Sunday at coffee and doughnuts after Mass. I was the one who was red. Yet again, I embarrassed myself — in public, as usual — during announcements at the end of Mass.

Let me backtrack a little. My homily mentioned Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal,” who lectures often about how words impact people. Typically, he’ll ask his audience if they can go 24 hours without saying anything unkind about or to another person. Rabbi Telushkin notes that “invariably, a small number of listeners raise their hands, signifying yes. Others laugh, and quite a large number call out, ‘No!’”

He goes on to say, “Those of you who can’t answer yes must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. Similarly, if you cannot go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, then you have lost control over your tongue.” (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, general editors.)

I encouraged the congregation to monitor their words over the coming week and see if they could go 24 hours — straight — without saying something unkind about or to others.

OK, so back to those announcements at Mass. When I’d reached the end
of the official ones, I opened my mouth to say something snarky about the Chiefs whose opening game was about to start. At the last minute, I caught myself but turned beet-red. I had to ‘fess up to the crowd about what I’d almost done and why I got so red. Gee, I couldn’t even get through Mass without something unkind popping into my mind! I pointedly looked at my watch and said, “OK, my 24 hours starts now.”

Sadly, my resolution didn’t last long. I ended up seeing part of the Chiefs game while out to eat with my mom. Oh my, did the unkind words flow at the Arrowhead debacle. I reset my 24-hour goal.

All went relatively smoothly until Monday midday. I was in a funeral pro- cession heading to a burial at the Leavenworth National Cemetery. Along the way, plenty of people pulled over to the shoulder and bowed their heads as we went by. But, then, there were the “others.” These folks barged right into the procession, apparently finding the three minutes for us to pass totally intolerable. Technically, since I was alone in my car and my “frank” comments about these procession disrupters were not publicly heard, I didn’t violate the no-unkindness rule. But morally, I did, and so I reset my goal again. When I got back to The Leaven afterwards, well, let’s just say that I was nowhere near my kindest (or quietest) self and leave it at that. Reset, reset, reset.

In short, I’ve got a long way to go. The tongue is sure a slippery thing, isn’t
it? How often we misuse the gift of speech. With the love of neighbor in mind, Jesus cautions us to be aware of the power of our words. When we interact with one another, especially with those who have sinned against us, we’re to choose carefully the words we use. Next, we’re to monitor how we say things, because even the right words, if spoken in a demeaning, nasty or judgmental tone, can miss their mark and make things worse.

And most importantly, we’re to lay bare our ulterior motives. Why are we bringing something up? If it’s to genuinely assist someone to be a better person, to build him or her up, that’s one thing. But often our motivation is not so noble: We seek to tear down, get revenge or hurt the other.

As I’m writing this on Monday, the Royals just gave up six runs in the bottom
of the third to the Tigers. Doggone it, Guthrie, you’re pitching like a . . . Whoops!

OK, my new 24 hours starts now. (Sigh)

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