On saying good words about others

This entry is from my book Collected Thoughts (2014). It was first a sermonette in honor of St. John Bosco whom I delivered when I was a novice (in 2007). I’m posting it here as my way of honoring St. Ignatius of Loyola whose feast day, the Church marks today.

From a splendid soldier to a faithful founder. A statue of St. Ignatius in front of the Manila Observatory. Photo by Itchan Decena

Once upon a time, I wanted to know whether God was calling me to be a Jesuit.

I shared this with my spiritual director and with the go signal from my Salesian formators, I found myself one day in the midst of young Jesuits who were explaining to me the process of how to become one.

This took place more than a decade ago.

One sweet after-taste of that encounter is the realization that they speak well of their confreres. I note that they only reserve the best and sweetest adjectives for each other.

And that feeling of awe I still carry up to now, now that I am already a Salesian.

I have learnt in my research that the SJs don’t put much emphasis on community life unlike the way we celebrate our fraternal community, but they are able to express their love through their good words for each other.

Scanning the pages of our very own Biographical Memoirs, I found out that it’s no less than the “Salesian Pope” himself in the person of Pius IX who advised Don Bosco when he visited the former in Rome to imitate the Jesuits in their ways of treating the confreres.

Don Bosco quoted Pius IX with these words:

You will never hear a Jesuit priest speak less than favorably of any of his confreres. Rather, they always highly praise any of them should their names come up in conversation. Should anything happen that might in any way stain or tarnish the name or reputation of your society, keep it hidden from the strangers. Do likewise.

BM IX pp. 262

These words of St. John Bosco stirred some sensitive chords in my heart. It has forced me to evaluate how the Salesians live well to the standards of the Jesuits in terms of fraternal charity. It asks me to assess each Salesian as regards his treatment of his brother Salesian.

Don  Peter Ricaldone, the fourth successor of Don Bosco, entitled his 1933 message “Think well, speak well and do well to all.” At a glance, it seemed that it’s written more for very young kids who are learning to “stop, look and listen,” however, the richness of his message written more than seventy years ago has never lost its essence.

He said that “Charity exhorts us in the first place to think well of all.” “Think” here means the proper use of the mind in forming judgments with regard to our neighbor. Uncharitableness is so detestable a vice that St. John Chrysostom compares it to the low occupation of cleaning out sewers and revealing the filth that is in them.”

St. Francis of Sales rightly points it out: Those who criticize others by making laudatory preambles and interweaving appealing clever remarks are the most subtle and poisonous slanderers of all.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or if you’re concerned at all, but the ill remarks toward others are spreading like wild fire; that it’s more satisfying to speak about the weakness of others rather than of their strength; it’s easier to put them down than to lift them up.

I say this especially because of two reasons: first, it contradicts charity; and second, it will not make the person change.

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