My husband and I learned a mortifying lesson about misjudging others when we mistook our saintly neighbor for a sinner.
Newly moved to Houston, we learned that our next-door neighbor, Mr. G, was a retired widower (his wife had died a couple of years before). We observed that his son would come over to visit regularly, often working on cars with his dad.
Sadly, in our neighborhood, people didn’t make much effort to get acquainted, a big city coldness that was disappointing to us. So, we otherwise didn’t get to know Mr. G., but he didn’t seem to go out much.
The Red Mustang Caper
That all changed when Mr. G bought a red Mustang. Uh oh, we thought – he’s going into a second teenagehood! Well, why not enjoy himself with something snazzy?
However, then he started keeping really strange hours. He was going out at night, sometimes very late, and not coming in until the wee hours. I knew because his driveway was right next to my bedroom and, when his headlights hit my windows, I would wake up.
This situation got really irritating. I didn’t appreciate being awakened in the middle of the night. What was going on with Mr. G? Had he gotten lonely and started tomcatting around? Was attracting the ladies the reason for the sporty car?
We had just about gotten to the point of complaining when Mr. G suddenly died of a heart attack. My husband decided to go to the funeral, but I couldn’t get away from work.
The Funeral and Confession
When I came home that day, my husband came running up to me and said, “We are terrible people, and we need to go to confession!”
Much to our surprise, his funeral was held at our parish! Mr. G was Catholic! Our St. Jerome’s was a huge parish, so those of us who went to different Masses had little contact unless we happened to serve on a committee together.
My husband learned from the eulogy that Mr. G had been keeping those odd hours because he had started filling in the vacant times at perpetual adoration!
We were living next door to a saint, but we had made wrong assumptions and thought him to be a carousing sinner!
Rumors, Gossip, Misinformation
Rumors start when people jump to conclusions like we did. That misinformation, in these polarized times, can turn into ugly conflicts. We all need to be very careful about believing anything unsubstantiated. It’s tragic that we are having to become independent researchers to keep from contributing to the problem of conspiracy theorists, fake news, and political mudslinging.
I remember one time in my hometown parish when people noticed that one of our priests seemed to be unsteady on his feet while celebrating Mass. Altar servers reported they smelled alcohol on his breath.
The gossip was vicious! It got so bad the parish council demanded an explanation of his behavior. Turned out, the poor innocent man was a diabetic having trouble controlling his blood levels, which can produce an alcohol-like smell in the breath and cause a person to be woozy.
Let me tell you, there was some serious sackcloth and ashes happening around our parish for a while. People were so ashamed of their suspicious behavior, and well they should have been.
The Eighth Commandment Is Definitely Relevant
The eighth commandment applies here: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Assumptions are unverified and therefore could be mistaken.
If you express an assumption or hearsay as fact, you are bearing false witness. Even if you say, “I assume” or “I think,” the listener hears (reads) what was said (or posted) as “likely” – that’s just human nature. By the time the information makes it to the next listener or the listener after that, the “assumption” has hardened into supposed truth.
If we have chosen to be Catholics because we want to follow the truth, then we also need to make a determined effort to speak the truth.