Fourth Sunday after Easter 2011
Let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger. For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God.
I quoted today’s epistle several weeks ago for the sermon on the deadly sin of wrath. I confess I thought about using the same sermon today, to see if anyone thought it sounded familiar. We all can use reminders when it comes to anger. As I told you on that Sunday, anger is a movement of man’s soul, a passion, and like all the passions, anger is neither good nor bad. It is when we allow our actions to be controlled by anger rather than right reason that sin enters in. And the way sin most commonly enters in is by sins of the tongue. Again, as St. Francis de Sales tells us, “It is a matter of great importance to make our conversation agreeable. To do so it is necessary to appear humble, patient, respectful, cordial, yielding in all lawful things to all. Above all, we must avoid contradicting the opinion of anyone, unless there is an evident necessity for it. In that case, it should be done with all possible mildness, and with the greatest tact, without in the least outraging the feelings of the other party. In this way we shall avoid contests which produce only bitterness and which ordinarily spring rather from attachment to our own opinion than from love of truth.”
But it is the Holy Ghost Himself who admonishes us in the most forceful terms on this subject. The Church begins on this Sunday in Eastertide to read from the Epistle of St. James. And the passage we read today from the first chapter is followed in chapter 3 by this stern warning on sins of the tongue:
James 3: If any man offend not in word, he is a perfect man. He is able to lead about the whole body with a bridle. For if we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Behold also ships, whereas they are great, and are driven by strong winds, yet they are turned about with a small rudder, wherever the will of the pilot directs. Even so the tongue is indeed a little member, and boasts of great things. Behold how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, defiling the whole body, setting aflame the wheel of existence, itself set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of creeping things and fishes can be tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.
But very often we must talk to people, and this is not a necessary evil; it is a great good. But we must always keep in mind the words of the Scriptures, that in much speaking sin will not be absent; and that Our Lord told us we will have to give an account for every idle word that we have uttered. How do we use our gift of speech for good, and avoid sin?
First, make daily effort to speak a little bit less than you would like. Before weighing the options of what to say, consider the option of saying nothing. At the end of the day, in your evening prayers, in your examination of conscience, ask yourself before God: did I make a sincere effort today to say a little bit less than I wanted to? And begin each day with the same resolution. Sins of pride and anger will begin to vanish from your life.
Second, as often as you can, engage others in conversation by seeking their thoughts instead of immediately expressing your own. There was a television anchorman who used to say, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.” But the ancients said, “Nature has given to men one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.”
Finally, learn to love silence for its own sake. Again the wisdom of the ancients tell us, “I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence.” But it is only with the coming of Christ that man has been able to esteem the truly divine quality of silence. St. John of the Cross says: “From all eternity God spoke but one Word, His only begotten Son, and He spoke this Word in silence, and it is in silence that we hear It.” And St. Faustina says, “Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. A chattering soul will never attain sanctity. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul. We are sensitive to words and quickly want to answer back, without taking in regard as to whether it is God's will that we should speak. A silent soul is strong; no adversities will harm it if it perseveres in silence. The silent soul is capable of attaining the closest union with God. It lives almost always under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God works in a silent soul without hindrance.”
But we are not Carthusians; we’re Salesians. Even when we have to speak, we can maintain a great interior silence by speaking a little less than we are inclined and refraining from saying anything which will disturb this silence of the soul. As the Apostle counsels us today: wherefore, brethren, putting away all uncleanness and abundance of malice, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls. Amen.