All of us can remember having been hurt by somebody speaking without thinking and stinging our heart, leaving a lasting bad memory. Also, all of us remember having opened up our mouths without sufficient reflection and wounding our brother, sister or friend! Immediately after the word slipped out of the mouth, we wanted to fish it back in, but no, too late! Once the word has been uttered, there is no “muting”, cancelling or postponing its arrival to the ear and heart of the listener.
Jesus speaks very clearly about our words: “Every word that comes out of the mouth will be subject to judgment.” St. James dedicates almost an entire chapter (chapter 3) to the sins of the tongue. In short, the Apostle underscores the importance of learning the art of speech, reminding us that we should be slow to speak and quick to listen. He reminds us that man can control almost all types of animals, but not the tongue. Moreover, he says that the same tongue that is used to praise God ends up by cursing one’s neighbor. This is wrong!
Therefore, we would like to offer five short suggestions to help us to utilize our tongue, our speech, our words, our conversation as a means to truly edify our neighbor—that means, to build up our neighbor!
First suggestion! We should make it a habit to first talk to God and then to talk to our neighbor. It was said of the great St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (among which were St. Albert the Great and his student St. Thomas Aquinas) that he would first talk to God and then talk about God to others! Superb! Ideally that should be our motto and objective in life with regard to speech— that our words would in some way be communicating the presence of God to others!
Second idea! Think before you speak! St. Ignatius observes that a soul agitated is in a state of desolation; in this state it is not the good spirit that is guiding us but the bad! Speak after reflection and with a calm and peaceful mind! Rushed and impetuous words from unclear or muddled ideas will often cause confusion and hurt. Avoid it!
Third counsel! SILENCE! The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in the past few months has insisted on the capital importance of cultivating silence in our daily lives! Today we suffer from noise pollution! Radio talk-shows, pop music, non-stop TV programs, dogs barking into the late hours of the night, adding to that non-stop useless chatter, often filled with gossip—all of us have experienced these scenarios all too frequently! The Holy Father went so far as to say that if we do not have zones of silence, then we really cannot understand the person who wants to talk to me! Silence creates an interior space for listening, then listening disposes us for union with the Holy Spirit; finally the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray and then to listen attentively and charitably towards our brothers and sisters!
Fourth, a Biblical counsel of great importance: THE GOLDEN RULE! The “Golden rule” enunciated by Jesus Himself is very simple but everybody in the world understands it: “Do unto others what you want them to do to you.” Why not take the Golden Rule one more step and apply it specifically to our speech. That is to say, “Do unto others what you want them to do to you, but most especially say to others what you would want them to say to you! Try it out!
Fifth: at times it is not clear if what we are saying is harmful to others or beneficial; it is not always crystal clear! What could be of great help in this matter is to imagine that during the time of your conversation, your choice of words, tone of voice and even facial expression, that three very important persons are present there during that conversation. Those three persons are Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. Ask yourself this question: “If Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph were present during the conversation and listening to your words, would they be nodding a smile of approval?” This is the acid test for followers of Jesus! Are our words pleasing in the sight of God, His Holy Mother and Good St. Joseph—who never even said a word in all of Sacred Scripture?
Conclusion. Jesus said that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Also Jesus warned us that we will be judged by every word that comes out of our mouths. St. James warns us to be slow to speak and quick to listen.
In the Diary of St. Faustina she admitted her three primary faults were: 1) Pride in not being open to her Superior, Irene; 2) TALKING TOO MUCH!!! She admitted honestly that Jesus revealed to her that at times He preferred her to be silent rather than to speak for two reasons: the person would not profit from her words, and it would be much more beneficial for the souls in Purgatory to have her prayers (in those moments) rather than her conversation. Finally 3) she did not always observe the Rule faithfully.
Let us remember the challenging exhortation of the Franciscan Doctor of the Church, St. Bonaventure: “We should open our mouths on three occasions: to praise God, to accuse ourselves, and to edify our neighbor.” Faithful to this exhortation, we will surely avoid many slips of the tongue, anoint our words with the Spirit, and store up for ourselves an eternal inheritance in heaven!
May Our Lady, who pondered in her Immaculate Heart before speaking, teach us to magnify the Lord in our words and to truly edify our neighbor! “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”