19th Sunday After Pentecost
Wherefore, putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbor. Ephesians 4:25
Of all the vicious habits into which we are prone to fall, there is none more common, and none more miserable, mean, and contemptible, than this one of which the Apostle here speaks. There is also none about which Christians in general have so lax and careless a conscience. True, every one regards lying as in some sense at least sinful; and many would hesitate about going to Holy Communion if they had told a lie after confession. But in spite of that, when the Communion is once made, the tongue which has just received the God of justice and truth will immediately begin again to offend him by telling falsehoods which are too often unjust as well as untrue.
Still, when there is an injustice done by telling a lie; when some one else suffers by it in his character or his goods, there are, I hope, few who do not see what a sin they have committed, and understand that they must make reparation by taking back what they have said, if they wish to be good Christians. But, for all that, how many injurious lies are told, even by those who think themselves good Christians, and never properly retracted or even thought of afterward by those who tell them! The most abominable slanders pass from mouth to mouth ; they are listened to and repeated with the greatest interest and eagerness, without any trouble being taken to ascertain whether what is said is true or not. These people who are so free with their tongues never seem to imagine for a moment that, even when circumstances would justify them—and it is very seldom that they do—in telling a fact bearing against their neighbor they are under an obligation first to find out by careful examination whether it be indeed a fact; otherwise the sin of an injurious lie will rest on their souls.
There are, however, some, and indeed many, who abhor slander, and who are really careful about telling injurious lies, and who hasten to retract what they have said against others, if they find out that, after all, the fact was not as they had good ground to believe. But there are not by any means so many who are careful about the truth for its own sake, and who do not scruple to tell white lies, as they are sometimes called.
What are these white lies ? They are of two kinds. The first are those which are told for some end in itself good, to get some advantage for one’s self or for another, or to get one’s self or some other person out of a scrape ; to conceal a fault, to avoid embarrassment, or to save somebody’s feelings. These are called officious lies. Then there are others, called, jocose, which do no good to anyone, but are told merely for fun ; such as the little tricks on others which are often indulged in, or boasts made about things which one has never done. They may be taken back before long, and only meant to deceive for a moment ; still they are meant to deceive, if only for a moment, and are, therefore, really lies.
Now officious lies are really forbidden by God’s law as well as injurious ones, though of course not so bad as those. And yet how few act as if they really were sins at all! People will say, “I told lies, perhaps three or four every day, but there was no harm in them.” No har ! No harm to other people ; no, perhaps not, except by bad example and the loss of confidence in your word and that of others ; though there is great harm even in that way. But there is a greater harm than this : it is that which the liar does to the sacredness of truth itself, and, as far as he can, to God who is the eternal truth, who loves truth unspeakably, and requires that we should love it for his sake. He will not allow us to tell the most trivial falsehood, though by it we could save the whole world from destruction, or bring all the souls which have been damned out of hell and put them in heaven.
Remember this, then : there are lies which are not injurious, but there are no lies which are not harmful and sinful; no lies for which you will not have to give an account at the judgment of God. Stop, therefore, I beg you at once, this mean, disgraceful, and dishonorable habit of falsehood ; it will never be forgiven in confession unless you make a serious and solid purpose against it. Put away lying then at once and for ever, and speak the truth in simplicity ; you may sometimes lose by it for the moment, but you will profit by it in the end, both in this world and in the world to come.
Priests of the Congregation of St. Paul. Five Minute Sermons for Low Masses on All Sundays of the Year. Vol. 2. [S.l.]: Catholic Publication Society, 1886. Print. pg 444-447