Pope Francis: ‘Words Start Wars’

In this Aug. 22, 2018 file photo, Pope Francis is caught in pensive mood during his weekly general audience at the Vatican. Francis' papacy has been thrown into crisis by accusations that he covered-up sexual misconduct by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File

Pope Francis preached Sunday on the dangers of criticizing others rather than correcting one’s own defects, insisting that “words start wars.”

“It is the same to destroy another person with your tongue or with an atomic bomb. It is the same, you destroy,” the pope told the faithful during a visit to Saint Crispin’s parish in Viterbo. “And the tongue has the power to destroy like an atomic bomb. It is very powerful.”

Reflecting on Sunday’s gospel reading where Jesus urges his followers to remove the beam from their own eyes before trying to take the splinter out of their neighbors’ eyes, Francis told the faithful that it is more important to be aware of one’s own faults than the faults of others.

To those who think they have no defects, he said facetiously, “Ah, congratulations! I assure you that if you do not realize that you have them here, you will find them in purgatory. Better to discover them here.”

“We all have flaws, all of us,” the pope said. “But we are accustomed — in part by inertia, in part by the gravitational pull of selfishness — to look at the defects of others. We are all specialists in this.”

“We immediately discover the faults of others. And we talk about them. Because speaking ill of others feels good and we like it,” he said.

Original sin “leads us to condemn others,” he continued. “Suddenly we are specialists at finding others’ faults without seeing our own. And Jesus says: ‘You condemn this person for a little thing, and you have so much bigger things, but you don’t see them.’ And this is true: our wickedness is not so much, we think, because we are used to not seeing our limitations, to not seeing our faults, but we are specialists at seeing the faults of others.”

The pope went on to suggest that the habit of seeing others’ faults never ends there, but also leads to unhealthy criticism and backbiting, which in turn leads to feuds and division.

“Chatter does not end in chatter. Chatter goes beyond, sowing discord, sowing enmity, sowing evil,” Francis said. “Listen to this, I’m not exaggerating: words start wars. Speaking ill of others, you start a war. A step towards war and destruction.”

“Many wars begin with insults, with speaking badly of others: domestic wars, wars in the neighborhood, in the workplace, at school, in the parish. For this reason, Jesus says: ‘Before criticizing others, take a mirror and look at yourself. Look at your flaws and be ashamed of them. And thus you will hold your tongue about the faults of others.’”

And if you must bring up someone’s faults, Francis continued, you should at least have the courage to say it to their face and not behind their backs.

And if they won’t listen, “tell those who can remedy the problem, those who can correct it, but do not chatter about it, because chatter does not solve anything. Indeed, it makes things worse and takes you to war.”

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