October 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 3

Honor and Sacredness of a Reputation

By Rev. Mark Connolly


If you read the life story of St. Francis of Assisi, you might recall that he spent a great deal of his life teaching the Franciscan priests and brothers about the sacredness of each one's life and each one's reputation. We always attribute St. Francis as the real lover of animals, the friend of animals that has been unequaled in history. But there is another side of his life. He was a great teacher in the classroom. One of the classic examples that he gave while he was teaching pertained to the sacredness of each one's reputation. In this example, he was talking about humans.

During certain times in the classroom, he would go in carrying a large white pillow filled with feathers. Then he would open up the windows of the classroom, hold the pillow up to his students, take a sharp knife and lunge the knife into the pillow. At that point, all the feathers in the pillow would go helter-skelter in different directions. Then he would close the window, look to his students and tell them, go out and pick up all the feathers. They knew they could not. St. Francis knew they could not. He then gave his illustration. That pillow which is slit by a knife and is damaged is like a person's reputation when cut to pieces by any one's tongue. It is very hard to repair a reputation that you have damaged by the words that you speak.

In his teachings, St. Francis constantly used the examples from the gospels reminding us how not to be judgmental concerning the failures and the lifestyles of others. He constantly gave the example of the story of the prodigal son and in it he showed Christ never criticized the prodigal son for his lifestyle or his actions. The second example he used was the story of the woman taken in adultery. Christ, he said, never sat in judgment to castigate her. He simply said to her, neither will I condemn you, go in peace and sin no more. Even his last few breaths on earth, according to St. Francis, when he was talking to the good thief on the cross a few feet from him, Christ without any judgment looked at him and said, this day you shall be with me in paradise.

During the course of our lives, many of us have forgotten the lessons of these three gospels. During the course of our lives, we have forgotten that many centuries ago God, the Father, gave ten commandments that reminded each one of us that we are born with three specific rights. He gave them in what we call the ten commandments, thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not bear false witnesses. The first pertains to the right to life, the second the right to property and the third the right to a good name. These are teachings that go back thousands of thousands of years. Both God, the Father, and Christ, his son, all during his public ministry reminded us that our life is sacred, that is why abortion is wrong, our property is sacred, that is why no one can steal it, and our reputation is sacred, that is why no one should abuse it.

St. Francis of Assisi

Abuse of a reputation is becoming a common incident in our way of life. Whether you are famous or not as famous, reputations are being destroyed without any fear of the damage that might be done to those whose reputations are destroyed. If you go to a supermarket and you see a tabloid, whether you know the personalities or not, the by lines and headlines generally vilify some person that is in the news. This is all under the protection of freedom of the press. It is very obvious that so many people who write for public magazines and newspapers have very little knowledge about the sacredness of anyone's reputation. As long as it is headlines, as long as it is sensational, everything is permissible. Anyone who patronize these papers is making a big mistake. If you go back into your childhood days, you might remember that a lot of us heard slogans that helped us protect the reputation of others. One slogan was if you cannot say anything good about a person then don't say anything at all. Another was the slogan it is far better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. All of us today must keep in mind the value and importance of truth. If we say something about our neighbor that is not truthful, we are denying the basic teaching of Jesus Christ.

All of us have an obligation in court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That slogan should be kept uppermost in our mind whenever we are tempted to put a knife in the reputation of another human being.

In the beginning of this article I used the expression the culture of life or the culture of death. As followers of Christ, we always have to defend the culture of life. Both God, in the old testament, and Christ, in the new testament, taught us about the sacredness of life, the sacredness of property and the sacredness of a good name. Those are constantly being attacked. You know as well as I do that we, as Catholics, often have to stand alone for our principles and our convictions. Christ had to stand alone for his. There is no doubt that if today he was walking the streets of this area, he would still be teaching about the sacredness of life, the sacredness of property and the sacredness of a good name. I mentioned that all of us during the course of our lives heard slogans that prevented us from injuring the reputation of another. I would like to leave you with another one.

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.

One other question, what category are you in?