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In a society that generally advocates tolerance as a means of respect for all people, we ironically see an increase in harsh criticism, cruel jokes, and arbitrary judgments that violate people’s dignity. The media provide lurid and sensational coverage of crime, scandal, and celebrity gossip. The movie industry has been a powerful vehicle in shaping public opinion on religion and sexuality, alternately mocking or perverting these subjects for shock value and very rarely treating them with reverence. Political discourse frequently involves personal attacks and denigrating remarks. Stories of cyber-bullying as well as bullying incidents in schools have gained more attention in recent years, and we even hear of young people turning to suicide to escape the pain of cruel words.
Pope Francis has recently made several references to the subject of gossip and how wounding it is, highlighting instead the importance of using our words to bring unity. In a very simple and direct way, he says:
“Let each one ask him- or herself today, ‘do I increase harmony in my family, in my parish, in my community or am I a gossip. Am I a cause of division or embarrassment?’ …. Let us ask the Lord: Lord, grant that we may be more and more united, never to be instruments of division; enable us to commit ourselves, as the beautiful Franciscan prayer says, to sowing love where there is hatred; where there is injury, pardon; and union where there is discord…” (Sept. 25, 2013).
We know the power of words to build up or tear down another person. Words can contribute to a person seeing himself as worthless and unlovable, or can destroy a person’s reputation. But the power of words can also give a person hope in a difficult situation, or help someone see the dignity he possesses.
As Catholics, we bear the sign of Christ wherever we go, and we each represent his Church to the world. Our knowledge of the power of words can make us great messengers of the Gospel of Life. There is much good we can do by using our words to bring healing, to build up, to give others hope, and to actively look for solutions to problems in whatever situation we find ourselves in. By doing so, we more effectively reflect the Church as a vehicle of God’s love and mercy in the world.
By being an inviting presence, seeking unity and understanding with others, we can help open hearts and minds to the pro-life message about the dignity of each person. When we use our words at the service of charity and truth, we enrich the life of the Church from within and give a positive, authentic witness to the rest of the world. Let us move forward in humble hope, allowing God’s grace to work though us in the course of everyday conversations and interactions. On several levels, the words you use may save a life.
Kimberly Baker is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.
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