The first reading this Sunday reminds us that our speech discloses our character:
When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks. The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.
Praise no one before he speaks,
for it is then that people are tested (Sirach 27:4-7).
What we say reveals a great deal about us—more than we imagine. Speech is among our greatest gifts, yet self-mastery in speech is among the rarest. Some of the most common sins we commit are related to speech: gossip, idle chatter, lies, exaggeration, harsh attack, and uncharitable remarks. With our tongue we can spew hatred, incite fear, spread misinformation, tempt, discourage, promote error, and ruin reputations. With a gift capable of bringing such good, we can surely cause great harm!
The Letter of James says this:
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what he says is perfect, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, and thus we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.
Consider how a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be (Jam 3:2-10).
Although one may conquer any sin by God’s grace, those associated with speech are among the hardest to overcome. Sometimes it seems as if our speech is being controlled by a separate, baser part of our brain. We can be halfway through saying something before realizing how foolish and sinful we are being. Scripture speaks artistically of the sinful tongue.
Here are some common sins of the tongue:
The Lying Tongue – speaking falsehoods with the intention of misleading others.
The Backbiting Tongue – talking about others behind their backs, injuring their reputations through detraction.
The Indiscreet Tongue – spreading confidential, unnecessary, or hurtful information about others.
The Flattering Tongue – exaggerating the good qualities of others in order to ingratiate ourselves to them.
The Proud Tongue – speaking boastfully or in an overly certain way.
There is a saying that a proud tongue comes with two closed ears. Those of proud tongue are not easily corrected and do not qualify or distinguish their remarks as they should.
The Overused Tongue – saying too much, which usually ushers in sin by its excess.
The Rash Tongue – speaking before one should, often without having all the information.
The Quarrelsome Tongue – speaking in an overly opinionated way, attacking others personally, and/or provoking unnecessary division.
The Cursing Tongue – wishing harm upon others, often that they be damned.
The Piercing Tongue – speaking unnecessarily harshly or severely.
The Silent Tongue – failing to speak up when we ought to warn people of sin, call them to the Kingdom, and announce the truth of Jesus Christ.
In our age, the triumph of evil and poor behavior has been facilitated by our silence. As prophets, we are called to speak God’s Word.
Yes, our speech is riddled with what it should not have and lacking in what it should. How wretched is our condition! Well, James did say, Anyone who is never at fault in what he says is perfect. Indeed, if anyone masters his tongue, he is a spiritual superman!
Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips (Ps 141:3).
Yes, help me, Lord. Keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth! Put your Word in my heart so that when I do speak, it’s really you speaking.