Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Eighth Commandment: "You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbour"

Bishop Philip Egan, Diocese of Portsmouth, England

As we enter into the Third Week of Lent, I thought it appropriate to share a pastoral letter for Lent that in particular addresses bloggers, those who use Facebook, Twitter and engage in other social networking. The pastoral letter, Sin, Lent, Redemption was written by Bishop Philip Egan from the Diocese of Portsmouth, England. For those who are from Portsmouth, have been to the Diocese of Portsmouth, visited the web site and know of Bishop Egan, I am sure you will enjoy reading today's post. 

In the pastoral letter, Bishop Egan sets the tone immediately by stating, "I need to raise with you a very serious matter, one that it is appropriate for us to consider during this season of Lent." This initial sentence is sure to intrigue the reader and as one who has read this document, I can assure you that it will not disappoint those who will do likewise. In the first paragraph, it is made clear that Lent is a time of "Christian warfare," when we journey with Christ in the desert during the great combat. In addition to explaining mortal and venial sin, the necessity to be reconciled with God and neighbour, to listen to the word of God, convert and remember our Baptism, Bishop Egan asks the reader to consider the 8th Commandment, "You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbour," not least within the context of today's digital age. Bishop Egan provides a concise explanation as to how the Eighth Commandment should guide our thinking and actions when blogging and social networking: 
The Ten Commandments make explicit the natural law written into every human heart. They tell us to love God (Commandments One to Three) and to love our neighbour (Commandments Four to Ten). The Eighth Commandment says this:“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” In other words, we must exercise discretion, respect others and their privacy, and not engage in slander, gossip and rash judgment. We must avoid calumny, that is, slurring and damaging people, and not spread abroad their sins and failings. How do I use Facebook or Twitter? Am I charitable when blogging? Do I revel in other people’s failings? All this is grave matter.
In my view, Bishop Egan has spot lighted a very important aspect of today's culture in the internet age we live in. How subtle can the temptation be to slander some one, to gossip, to spread rumours, to criticize and in essence, to condemn? Some times such sins occur in a very nonchalant manner amongst family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and with those who we briefly communicate and come into contact with. We must be on guard against such subtleties and demonstrate the moral courage and certitude to completely remove them from our interactions with others, including our on line activity. This also ensures we are not guilty of any one of the Nine Ways of Being An Accessory To Another's Sins.

By putting forth such a diligent effort to be ever on guard against the subtlety of sin, we strive to live the truth. We must not make any compromises against the truth and this may require us to be very candid and direct with those who initiate gossip, rumours and criticism with us. Such sinful activity should be rebuked and rightly considered as Offenses Against Truth. Here is one part of the Catechism of The Catholic Church that I would like to spot light, that specifically details some of the offenses against the truth, Article 8, No. 2477 states:
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbour; 
  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
I encourage everyone to read Article 8 in its entirety for a complete and thorough understanding of, as Bishop Egan rightly states, a very grave matter in today's digital world. By so doing, it will better your understanding of the truth and further encourage you to never make any compromises against it. Understanding the truth is important if we desire to live it. Bishop Egan states, "The truth is always graced. When we speak the Truth, our words are always laden with the Holy Spirit, piercing the heart of the listener and inviting them to accept our words and put them into action."

As one continues to read on, Bishop Egan focusses on something that we all need to remember during Lent, the need to think about "our choices, our sins and our redemption." We must journey through Lent with a focus of purifying our desires through prayer:
In Lent, we think about serious things, our choices, our sins, our redemption. In this season, the Church invites us to purify our desires, especially our deepest desire for happiness, for love, for goodness and truth. In making a moral decision, we cannot choose simply on the basis of what gives us pleasure and what causes us pain. We must also take account of our values, of what is right and what is wrong, recognizing that often, to do the right thing involves self-sacrifice. This is why to purify our desires, to be happy in life, to be psychologically healthy, we must pray. We must be people of prayer. We must develop a personal relationship with God. St. Theresa of Lisieux once said: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart, a simple look towards heaven, a cry of recognition and love.” We must find time and space every day to pray our morning and night prayers, from the heart to the Heart of Jesus. We cannot be saved unless we pray. We must read the Gospels, use a prayer book, visit the Blessed Sacrament, listen in silence, say the Rosary and the Angelus, maybe recite part of the Divine Office, and take part in the greatest prayer of all, the Sacrifice of the Mass.
In addition to prayer, Bishop Egan urges the faithful to revisit the Sacrament of Reconciliation as there is, "no better way to effect Lenten renewal than to meet Jesus One to one, Face to face, in the Sacrament of Penance, burying our sins in Him and rising with Him to new life."

This pastoral letter is a much needed reminder for everyone. One does not need to blog, use Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and other social networks to break the Eighth Commandment, but due to the nature of the social networking and the ease with which a negative and uncharitable comment can be posted, it can at times represent a greater occasion of sin. From my experience, the temptation to be uncharitable can increase when visiting certain news sites that publish negative and condemning reports, especially when accompanied by on line forums for visitors to post comments. Even amongst some fellow Catholics, I find some journalists and writers to be somewhat pharisaical in their reporting on Church matters, issues and controversies. In other words, there can be a lack of mercy and charity in their writing. It also begs the question, should they be publishing this information, truthful as it may be? By doing so, does it cause harm to anyone's reputation, cause scandal for the Universal Catholic Church and incite hatred and anger? Are they breaking the Eighth Commandment? 

Lastly, I wanted to point to out that Bishop Egan's pastoral letter includes eighteen endnotes citing many references for further reading including: scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, wisdom from different saints and Canon Law.  

May Bishop Egan's pastoral letter and this blog post better your understanding of the truth and strengthen your resolve to live it. 

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