Last time, I mentioned that God had addressed two of my ugliest sins through the book Damien the Leper. The first was self-pity, which I discussed in part one.
He also taught me to hate the sin of being critical of other people.
After his death, Father Damien's story spread worldwide. He was something of a sensation in the newspapers. A clergyman in Sydney, Australia wrote to his clergyman friend in Honolulu to ask about the suddenly famous Father Damien. The clergyman in Honolulu had known Father Damien and answered the letter.
His answer was short, but not sweet. It was bitingly critical and slanderous.
|Robert Louis Stevenson|
Luckily for us, unluckily for him, his clergyman friend had the letter he wrote criticizing the dead priest published in the Sydney Presbyterian. Robert Louis Stevenson, who was visiting Sydney at the time, read it and was so maddened by it that he beat his head upon the wall - to the shock of his wife.
He then proceeded to write, and have published widely, a response. He had visited the island where Father Damien lived, shortly after his death, and spent 8 days there. He had also met with the man who wrote the scathing letter. Those experiences gave him personal insight into the matter. And the voice to write a passioned response.
You can read the letter, in its entirety here. Or you can download a copy to your e-reader here. And I highly recommend it.
I became more and more disgusted with the critical clergyman as I read the letter from Mr. Stevenson.
"How could he?" I demanded.
"Yay for Mr. Stevenson!" I proclaimed.
"Yes! That's telling him!" I thought.
And then I thought. "Wow, what if someone widely published a letter in response to every time I was critical of someone?" Ouch.
Now, I'll admit, I don't go around criticizing the canonized often, (Father Damien was canonized by the Catholic church February 21, 2009) my targets are seemingly more fallible. But I am not less critical for having easier targets than the clergyman.
It really is so ugly. Stevenson says,"I conceive you as a man quite beyond and below the reticences of civility: with what measure you mete, with that shall it be measured you again;"
What I realized is that my criticism of others never says as much about them as it does about me. And what it says is ugly.
Think twice before you criticize. In fact, just be quiet instead. Every person you have a critical remark for also has a defender. And HIS pen is much more powerful than the pen of Robert Louis Stevenson.
I do not wish to insult the memory of Father Damien, or the expertly written defense of Robert Louis Stevenson by making it all about me. But if we are not to learn from such men as these, and to allow ourselves to be shaped for the better by having known them - even just through their stories - then what is reading for?
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."