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Leave your gift at the Altar

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: Unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not kill’; and that whoever shall kill shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’, shall be liable to the fire of Gehenna. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to your brother; and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:20-24


St. Augustine said of his mother, St. Monica:
"Wherever she could, she showed herself to be a great peacemaker between persons who were at odds and in disagreement. When she heard from either side…bitter things or when a rough mass of hatred is belched out in biting talk to a present friend about an absent enemy, she would never share anything with either of them about the other, except what would help towards their reconciliation." (Augustine, Confessions, Book 9, chapter 9, 21).
Why did St Monica recognize that gossip was so dangerous? Because it leads to bitterness, anger, and hatred, things which eat away at our hearts and kill in us the love of God and love of neighbor that our faith demands of us. The three types of gossip we will discuss today are enemies to true Christian friendships.

The first variety of gossip is rash judgment. This is when we jump to conclusions, assuming that what we have heard is true, not considering if what we have been told is accurate. The second type of common gossip is detraction. This is when we delight in telling the sins, faults and failings of some person to other people for the purpose of destroying their character and reputation to some degree. Calumny is the gravest form of gossip. Whereas in rash judgment we jump to conclusions, and in detraction we reveal the sins of our neighbor that he has committed, with calumny, we make up our own lies about someone to destroy their reputation hoping to gain some advantage over them or to take relish in ruining their good name.

Depending on the gravity of the matter, these sins can be mortal or venial. If someone's good name is severely tarnished in the workplace, family or community sometimes the harm done, sadly, is irreversible. We should always be careful to avoid rash judgment, detraction and calumny, because everyone has a right to a good reputation. Often, a person's good name may be all they have, and if we deprive them of it unjustly by careless words or deliberate gossip, then we have deprived them of something more valuable than money or worldly possessions. Thus, St. Bernard gave us this advice:
"Even though you see something very bad in your neighbor, don't jump immediately to conclusions, but rather make excuses for them in your mind. Try to excuse his intention, but if you cannot, think that he may have acted out of ignorance, or by surprise, or accidentally. If the thing is so blatant that it cannot be denied, even so, believe it to be so, and say inwardly: the temptation must have been very strong."
We see our brother in the best light possible at all times, looking on him with mercy and compassion. God calls us to be peacemakers and to reconcile with our brother when we have offended him or whenever he offends us. Therefore, Our Lord Jesus said:
"If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:21-24)
St. Paul counsels us to rid our hearts of the negative and harsh criticisms of our neighbors that arise from time to time in our relationships:
"Do nothing to sadden the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed against the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ." (Ephes. 4:30-5:2).
Whenever Christ calls you to be a peacemaker, speak to your brother, correct him, but, as St. John Cantius taught:
"Let your weapons be patience, sweetness and love, because roughness is bad for your own soul and spoils the best cause."
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