Unseemly Words, and the Respect Due to Others


Our idle words are a sharp weapon against our neighbor’s heart

 

 

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On Sunday we will chat about our impure words.
We continue our series with Part III, Chapter 27 “Unseemly Words, and the Respect Due to Others​” from An Introduction to the Devout Life. Here Saint Francis teaches us the importance of keeping our words always focused on pure and holy things.

Saint James says, “If any man offend not in word, the same is, a perfect man.” Beware most watchfully against ever uttering any unseemly expression; even though you may have no evil intention, those who hear it may receive it with a different meaning. An impure word falling upon a weak mind spreads its infection like a drop of oil on a garment, and sometimes it will take such a hold of the heart, as to fill it with an infinitude of lascivious thoughts and temptations. The body is poisoned through the mouth, even so is the heart through the ear; and the tongue which does the deed is a murderer, even when the venom it has infused is counteracted by some antidote preoccupying the listener’s heart. It was not the speaker’s fault that he did not slay that soul. Nor let any one answer that he meant no harm. Our Lord, Who knoweth the hearts of men, has said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” And even if we do mean no harm, the Evil One means a great deal, and he will use those idle words as a sharp weapon against some neighbour’s heart. It is said that those who eat the plant called Angelica always have a sweet, pleasant breath; and those who cherish the angelic virtues of purity and modesty, will always speak simply, courteously, and modestly. As to unclean and light-minded talk, Saint Paul says such things should not even be named among us, for, as he elsewhere tells us, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”

Those impure words which are spoken in disguise, and with an affectation of reserve, are the most harmful of all; for just as the sharper the point of a dart, so much deeper it will pierce the flesh, so the sharper an unholy word, the more it penetrates the heart. And as for those who think to show themselves knowing when they say such things, they do not even understand the first object of mutual intercourse among men, who ought rather to be like a hive of bees gathering to make honey by good and useful conversation, than like a wasps’ nest, feeding on corruption. If any impertinent person addresses you in unseemly language, show that you are displeased by turning away, or by whatever other method your discretion may indicate.

One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirises and turns everything to ridicule. God abhors this vice, and has sometimes punished it in a marked manner. Nothing is so opposed to charity, much more to a devout spirit, as contempt and depreciation of one’s neighbour, and where satire and ridicule exist contempt must be. Therefore contempt is a grievous sin, and our spiritual doctors have well said that ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word against our neighbour, inasmuch as when we offend him in any other way, there may still be some respect for him in our heart, but we are sure to despise those whom we ridicule.

There is a light-hearted talk, full of modest life and gaiety, which the Greeks called Eutrapelia, and which we should call good conversation, by which we may find an innocent and kindly amusement out of the trifling occurrences which human imperfections afford. Only beware of letting this seemly mirth go too far, till it becomes ridicule. Ridicule excites mirth at the expense of one’s neighbour; seemly mirth and playful fun never lose sight of a trustful, kindly courtesy, which can wound no one. When the religious around him would fain have discussed serious matters with Saint Louis at meal-times, he used to say, “This is not the time for grave discussion, but for general conversation and cheerful recreation,”–out of consideration for his courtiers. But, my child, let our recreation always be so spent, that we may win all eternity through devotion.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. There is a sin called detraction. This is the sin of speaking an unkind truth about someone; it is like gossip, but the story is true. Where in your life can you eliminate detraction?
  2. Why do you think it is so easy for us to lean toward speaking ill about someone? It is almost as if it is a form of entertainment, yet it is at the expense of someone who needs our prayers and love, not our gossip and murmuring. How can we avoid this temptation?
  3. Tabloids and celebrity magazines are nothing but elaborate versions of exactly what Saint Francis is warning against here. The intimate details of their lives should not be on display for the world to see, and yet they are exploited, and we tend to forget that they are real people. Have you ever thought of this? Is this perhaps a “guilty pleasure” that you should eliminate from your life?
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