Spirituality: How to avoid sins of the tongue

Eugene de Blaas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

For Confraternity Readers: Servus Mariae

“Servus Mariae Nunquam Peribit”

by Rev. Fr. Dominic Radecki, CMRI

(Summer, 2017)

In the book of Proverbs, we read: “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin” (Proverbs 10:19). Sins of speech are prevalent and many people simply talk too much. St. Francis de Sales advises us to “be brief and virtuous, brief and gentle, brief and charitable, brief and amiable,” in our speech, and St. Ignatius likewise exhorts us to be simple, direct and brief. Our words should be elevating to others, reflecting goodness and truth. Like the saints we should practice silence as an aid to recollection, prayer and union with God. Consequently, we should speak only when required by charity or duty.

When a doctor begins a routine exami­nation, he often begins by looking at the tongue. In ancient Chinese medicine, that organ indicates, to some degree, a person’s health. In the spiritual life, we can also tell the condition of our soul from the tongue. We must severely guard our conversation if we are to be a true follower of Christ.

What does the Bible say about Gossip?

According to St. James, “So the tongue also is a little member, but it boasts mightily. Behold, how small a fire, how great a forest it kindles! The tongue is a fire, a very world of iniquity. The tongue is placed among our members, defiling the whole body, and set­ting on fire the course of our life, being itself set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, and of serpents and of the rest, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind; but the tongue no man can tame — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless God the Faith and with it we curse men, who have been made after the likeness of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. These things, my brethren, ought not to be so” (James 3:5-10).

“If all men knew what others say of them,” writes Pascal, “there would not be four friends in the world” (Pensees. 8). And again from St. James, “If anyone does not offend in word, he is a perfect man, able also to lead round by a bridle the whole body. For if we put bits into horses’ mouths that they may obey us, we control their whole body also. Behold, even the ships, great as they are, and driven by boisterous winds, are steered by a small rudder wherever the touch of the steersman pleases.”

Because of our pride and self-love, we are more likely to give a bad or false account of our neighbor than a good or true one. Sadly, we are often narrow-minded. Instead of seeing the whole picture, relishing the good points, we concentrate on minor flaws. There is a very common inconsis­tency among people who judge the interior motive and intention of others which they do not know, but are averse to examine their own interior — their own motives and inten­tions, which they do know. “Rash judgments must be avoided,” says Tanquery. “…Both justice and char­ity demand not only that we abstain from judging the actions of others, but that we interpret them in the best possible light” (The Spiri­tual Life, p. 491).

How bad is it to Gossip?

In many cases, sins of gossip are mortal sins. “Every slander is grave when it is of such a nature as to cause serious injury to your neighbor’s reputation. It is not neces­sary to know the gravity of the slander by searching out what damage it has actually caused to your neighbor. It is sufficient to ask this question: ‘Was this slander of such a nature as to [seriously] injure my neighbor?’ If it was not; there is a venial sin; if it was, the sin is mortal” (Very Rev. P. Lejeune, Counsels of Perfections for Christian Moth­ers, p. 160).

We can understand why this teaching of Catholic moral theology is so severe when we reverse the circumstance. We prize our reputation. When our own good name is blackened by the venomous words of another, we are deeply offended. Our neigh­bors also prize their reputation. Therefore, God justly defends a person’s reputation by punishing the wickedness of the slanderer.

The gravity and malice of gossip consists in blackening or destroying the reputation and good name of another, which is one of his most prized possessions. In Holy Scrip­ture we read, “Better is a good name than great riches” (Proverbs 12:1). “Have a care of a good name, for it is worth more and will be more lasting than a thousand precious and great treasures” (Ecclus. 41:15).

Someone once asked St. Anthony, “What is backbiting?” To which he replied, “It is every sort of wicked word we dare not speak in front of the person about whom we are talking.”

In addition to holding up high ideals to their children, parents must practice charity of speech in the home and avoid all gossip. Catholic children should never hear their parents utter a single word contrary to Christian charity. One of the fondest memo­ries of my mother is that she never spoke badly of anyone. Catholic parents teach primarily by example. By avoiding rash judgment and habitual criticism themselves, and correcting the uncharitable speech of their children with loving firmness, family peace and harmony will be preserved and strengthened.

Many sins against speech occur on church grounds. Persons professing to be devout Catholics often tear their neighbor’s repu­tation to shreds. How can such souls dare to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion when their tongue utters such slanderous words!

”I have made a pact with my tongue, not to speak when my heart is disturbed.”

–St. Francis de Sales

This should not discourage us from visit­ing after Mass. In many cases, traditional Catholics have no one else to talk to, no one at home or work who shares the same Faith and ideals. One of the benefits of a Catholic parish is the mutual support we can give one another. However, we must keep our conversations and visits positive, uplifting, encouraging and beneficial.

When is it okay to reveal faults of another?

Be cautious in judging others. According to St. Francis of Assisi, “Even though the accuser be a saint, let the superior guard against condemning the accused until he shall have heard what the latter may have to say in his own justification” (The Golden Rule, pp. 97-98). On the other hand, the secret sins or faults of another may be revealed when necessary for the common good or for protecting the rights of an innocent person. We can speak to someone in authority such as a parent, superior or manager in order to seek advice and help in resolving a problem.

Revealing a fault of another is also permit­ted to prevent harm to others; for example, a contractor who does poor work or uses defective materials. Also, a charitable per­son will warn those who might suffer from the fault when choosing a spouse, friend, medical advisor, etc., so that he may not be victimized. Finally, in some cases, it is permitted to reveal the hidden faults of another for the sinner’s ultimate good, but one should consult a priest in such cases.

Parents have a moral obligation to be firm and loving in judging the faults of their children. Corrections given by parents should be just, chari­table and non-hypocritical. They must teach their children to love goodness, hate sin and to control their unruly passions and selfish­ness. Parents who truly love their children promote their spiritual and temporal welfare, raising them in the fear and love of God.

Why shouldn’t we complain?

We must learn to refrain from complaining excessively about bad situations that we cannot change. When someone has been hurtful or inconsiderate towards us, we feel an immediate resent­ment. This is an opportunity for merit. Let us, like Jesus, offer it up. God has sent this cross to us for a particular reason and as a source of great merit. We can only enter Heaven with sanctifying grace, humility and self-sacrifice, and therein lies our opportunity.

“Let us put on concord in meekness of spirit and in self-control,” said Pope St. Clement I, “keeping ourselves far from all gossip and evil speaking, being justified by works and not by words” (Letter to the Corinthians, 30, 3). More clearly still was Pascal: “Would you have men think well of you? Hold your tongue.” Gossip and exces­sive criticism reveal the hatred and negative thinking within a person. A habitual gos­siper is proud. But although such a person seeks the admiration and esteem of his or her acquaintances by appearing to be better than others. Generally, however, a gossiper reaps the opposite effect. Although out­wardly people may laugh and seem to enjoy such company, many abhor a talebearer, knowing that a person who speaks to them maliciously of others is likely to do the same about them behind their backs.

How can I repair the situation when I spoke badly of someone?

Restitution is required when we commit sins of calumny or detraction. No apology or recantation, however, can fully repair the injustice committed. The greater the injury to our neighbor, the more persistently we must endeavor to restore his reputation.

What actions can we take to build true friendships and avoid excessive negativity in our speech?

How can I stop Gossiping?

We must endeavor to mortify our tongue by repressing the urge to gossip, cutting down the time we spend in idle chatting. Most of the things people talk about are not really important. Mind your own business and don’t be so judgmental of others. Give up complaining and faultfinding. Don’t listen to gossip. Reserve judgment until you have heard both sides of the story.

I will conclude with a story related by Father Alphonse Rodriguez, S.J. An illiter­ate monk named Pambo went to a learned monk to be taught. Upon hearing the verse, “I have determined to set a guard over my ways, that I sin not with my tongue,” he stopped his master from proceeding further, saying, “If I can accomplish that, that lesson alone will be enough for me.” Six months afterwards, his master met him and reproved him for not having come back to take a lesson. He replied, “Really, Father, I still have on hand to accomplish the first that I heard.”

Many years afterwards an acquaintance asked if he had by this time learned the verse. He answered, “It is forty-nine years since I first heard it, and I have been hardly able to put it into practice.” But he had done so, although in his humility he doubted it; for Palladius relates of him that he took the lesson so well to heart and put it so well into practice that, before speaking or answering what he was asked, he always lifted up his heart to God and communed and conversed with Him. And the story goes that hereby he drew so much assistance from God that when he was at the point of death, he said that he never remembered having spoken a word that he regretted having spoken! (Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues, vol. 2, pp. 137-137).

• Never speak to others when you are extremely angry.
• Always think before you speak.
• In your speech, be committed to lift up others instead of tearing them down.
• Firmly tell others that you will not listen to gossip.
• Be prepared to lose “friends.” Choose friends carefully. If you have one true friend, you are very fortunate. A special part of friendship is meaningful communication and the ability to confide in another during difficult times. This is unsafe if your “friend” is a gossip.
• It is not a sin to speak to a trusted friend about what is hurting us as long as there is no malice.
• Ask yourself, “What is my purpose and motive in speaking? Do I have a right to say this?”
• Avoid every word, however trivial, that would injure your neighbor.

“Servus Mariae” translates as “the servant of Mary” or “the slave of Mary.” This title reflects the spirituality of the Con­gregation of Mary Immaculate Queen, with whom the Con­fraternity members are affiliated. That spirit is one of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, as taught by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. The column title also reflects the motto of CMRI: Servus Mariae nunquam peribit (“The servant of Mary will never perish”).

–Taken from the Reign of Mary Quarterly Magazine, Issue 165

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