Jan 14, 2017
There is a Latin proverb worth meditating upon: "si tacuises philosophus manssises."
It eloquently tells us that our tongue can easily betray our lack of wisdom and our ignorance. All of us have ample reasons to think that had we remained silent, we would have been the beneficiary. Relatively few of us have reasons to say: I should have raised my voice and did not do it: when we should have defended an innocent person viciously attacked, when a dangerous error or heresy was being propagated. But on the whole, I believe that too much talking is the source of very grave harms done to others and to ourselves. Plato was right when he warned us that man is his own worst enemy.
Before briefly examining the many harmful uses of our tongue (a very small organ that as St. James remarks in his Epistle) which can cause so much harm, let us recall Iago, whose tongue poisons Othello and leads him to murder. Some remarks are called for.
Man is a creature, a weak and imperfect being much in need of help and who easily forgets why we have been given a tongue: "go and teach all nations." Alas, how many of us recall this when we open our mouths. How wise are those who, before speaking, reflect, be it only for a moment, whether what they are going to say will benefit others (to communicate important information) or will enrich the hearers: sharing our knowledge of crucial truths, when a friendly interchange is the theme, or whether it is empty chatter which almost inevitably will spread scandals, harm the reputation of others, and distract us and others from what truly matters. Saint Teresa of Avila writes in her autobiography that when she was present, the reputation of the absent was never damaged: when we have nothing good to say about a particular person, silence is called for.
I am far from denying that there are many cases in which speaking is "the thema Christi". It is the mission of preachers, of teachers, and of parents. There are things which we are duty bound to share: warning others of dangers whether spiritual or physical; but alas, rare are those who, before speaking, think for one moment whether the words which crave to flow out of their mouths will in fact benefit and enrich them. This is something that the great Saint Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian order in the eleventh century, understood so deeply. Is it by accident that the order he founded is the only one in the Church, so I have been told, that has never been reformed because it never was deformed, which, alas, happened to others? Silence can be an eloquent teacher. But we might ask the legitimate question: why has God given us a tongue? Obviously because it has a meaning in our lives; but alas, we often fail to understand its meaning, as the Evil one always encourages us to misuse our tongue for empty chatter or slander. Our tongue is given us to spread truth, to say words of love to others, to inform them of facts and things which are important for them to know. How wise it would be if when getting up in the morning, we would make a brief prayer begging God to give us the grace of using our tongue for his glory.