I was privileged the other day to have a chat with Lovely Ms. Lala about many things, and always faith-based, but the lingering fruit of which was the topic of sins against words. Right speech is always a powerful topic with me because I struggle so much with being a blabbermouth.
Almost 20 years ago, I was a youth minister to an amazing group of young people, and at the close of one of our service camps, I gave a speech quoting the then-popular song by Brittany Spears, “Oops, I Did It Again”. I referenced the song because although I worked with the most loving and accepting parish I had ever experienced, I knew I had a long way to go before I was saying what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. Oops I did it again was a nod to words flying out that I later wished I wouldn’t have said, or would have phrased a different way. Hence, the beauty of writing. What seemed to me to have a gift of any kind, we have the chance to change the world, and if we use that gift wrongly or selfishly, it can become a cross: case in point for me, my words. I have always loved to encourage others and that is something only God can have ordained, and yet my words have also caused me many a heart-ache. I often joke with my kids that I forgot to put the gate-keeper on duty that day, and that’s the reason that nasty thing escaped my lips. In actuality, when it happens, I didn’t pray for the gatekeeper (Holy Spirit) to come on board and have domain over my words for the day.
Ms. Lala and I were speaking of the sins against words. As described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (our teachings, based in scripture), sins against speech can take many forms. The following is a description of the primary ways:
Inflicting Unjust Injury (2477-2479)
Respect for the reputation of others forbids every attitude or words which inflict unjust injury. These include:
- Rash judgment – Which assumes as true the moral fault of another without sufficient evidence
- Detraction – Which discloses a person’s faults to another without any valid reason
- Calumny (slander) – Which harms another’s reputation by saying what is not true
A disciple avoids rash judgment by being careful in interpreting the deeds of another. “Every good Christian must be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to a person’s words than to condemn them” (St. Ignatius of Loyola).
We think we are not sinning when we don’t use a person’s name, or reveal every last detail of what they did (and very well may not) have done or said. Even a look can be attributing to the diminishing of someone’s character, which most of know how hurtful that can feel.
Today’s readings talking about what God did to Miriam and Aaron when they spoke against Moses, the Lord Himself came down to correct their behavior and set things aright, making it clear that no bad speech would be tolerated about his servant. (NM 12:1-13). The Psalm for today reminds us to be repentent, that our hearts would be open to the understanding of our own mistakes, and seek God’s mercy with a full heart (Psalm 51). Finally, in Matthew 14:22-36, Jesus himself reminds us that what defiles us comes out of our mouths, not so much what we are putting into our mouths. Our words carry great power; 1 Peter 3:10 speaks to our own salvation being within our words; “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit…” The list of scriptural references to the power of our words is vast. One book I have found helpful is “Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All“, by Karen Ehman. Focusing on the scriptural foundation of talk, we can draw on God’s gift of speech to be life-giving, encouraging, and a major tool to evangelize Christ, although as St Augustine famously said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words”.
As I go forward today, I know that my words are only an echo of what is actually happening in my soul. I can reflect my fears and doubts, or I can be still and find Christ in the silence where he gives me grace. ONLY there, is where my heart become pure, and I can become light for the world.