Boys and girls, on Sept. 13, the Church celebrated the feast of a Pastor and a Doctor of the Church by the name of St. John Chrysostom. He lived in the fourth century. John was born in Antioch. After his ordination to the priesthood, he was known for his preaching. He was an eloquent speaker and knew how to use words to uplift people, to include others, and make them feel good about themselves. He was later elected Bishop of Constantinople in what is today the city of Istanbul in Turkey. While there, John was a good pastor, committed to improving the life of the clergy and the lay people. But the Emperor and his enemies were jealous of the following St. John had so they sent him away in exile to do hard labor. After he completed his sentence, John returned to his diocese where he died at the age of 58.
Even when St. John was attacked physically and verbally by his opponents for speaking the truth, he remained a man who chose his words carefully. He knew how to address people in such a way that even if John had to reprimand them, he did so without breaking their spirit, without destroying their character, without slandering their name or making them feel ostracized. That is why he was given the last name of Chrysostom which, in Greek, means “Golden Mouth.” Everything he said, concerning doctrines of the faith, morality, the liturgy, the priesthood, was “gold.”
As we start a new school year, it might be a good time for us to think about how we use words. Do we use them to help others? Do we use them to build up others when they feel down and out? Do we use them to strengthen others and encourage others? Or do we use words to attack others, to make fun of others, to exclude others, to destroy their character? If that is the case then, we are guilty of a growing phenomenon in schools, Catholic, private and public nationwide: “bullying.”
In any school, there is no room for bullies. If we wish to be disciples of Jesus after whom we are to model our lives, then, like St. John Chrysostom, we have to choose our words carefully for the good of others. If we have nothing good to say about another person, be this student or teacher, then we should say nothing. Words are the means by which we express ourselves. How do we want others to perceive us? How do we want God to see us? Do we want to be remembered as a class bully or, as a kind Christian who was always there to help, to build up, to complement, to include and invite others to be part of the whole educational experience, be it in the classroom, in the cafeteria during lunch, on the playground during recess?
Boys and girls, schools today pride themselves on being not only smoke-free and drug-free zones, they are striving to become bully-free zones. To do this will require everyone’s cooperation — this includes you! Why? Because we are called to model our lives after Jesus — who also was bullied by those who felt threatened by him, such as the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Roman authorities.
Let us pray for the grace to use words only to speak well of others. For once they leave our mouth, we cannot retrieve those words again. This is a bully-free zone — but there’s always room for a good word.
Father Glenn J. Comandini is Advisor to the Catholic Spirit.