Moderation in Speech
Second Meditation - Means
I. I shall carry out the excellent advice given by St. James the Apostle when he says, in words that might worthily take rank among the sentences of the Book of Proverbs:
"It is for us men to be ready listeners, slow to speak our minds, slow to take offence." (James i, 19)If only I possessed that lovable characteristic, that quality so precious, because so rare, of knowing how to listen; how to listen to my neighbour intently, with lively interest, with joy, without ill-humoured and disdainful haste; I should run less risks than in speaking, and I should learn a vast amount of good I am now ignorant of, or which I know but very indifferently; and I should gain the good will of my neighbour into the bargain. How flattered we all are when people listen to us, though our speech should dwell on mere trivialities!
I must confess that people are never more congenial to me, however well-spoken they may be, than when they give me a good hearing, and, by their kind attentiveness, take stock of my views without interrupting and, much less, contradicting me.
But we should also be "slow to speak our minds", more especially when anger or any other passion gets hold of us. When in a passionate mood, it is preferable to refrain even from saying what in itself is good. And that goes also for the word of God, because in the pulpit we must be aware that
"Man's anger does not bear the fruit that is acceptable to God." (James i,20)I shall bring passion into my service, but only as a helpmate under the wise discretion of the mind, to whom it belongs to give orders as to how and when passion should communicate color and movement and life and persuasive, emotional force to my words. Never should passion become tyrannical mistress of my speech.
II. I shall banish from my lips, as being unworthy of a man, of a gentleman, and of a priest, all manner of lying; so that it may be said of me with all sincerity and justification:
One that is a priest. . . he will not deceive us. (1 Machab. vii, 14)All deception, fraud, and simulation are a disgrace to our cloth. Trivial as a lie may appear, it will always be, in the sight of the divine Scrutiniser of hearts, an evil infinitely greater than the evils I may wish to avoid by lying.
From my lips not a word, from my hands not a deed, redolent of flattery. Flattery is always a lie, a low-down lie because of the unconfessable aims it usually pursues; a lie that is detrimental both to the person indulging in it and to the one who is simple or vain enough to accept it.
Towards my own hierarchical Superiors I shall be deferential, respectful, perhaps even very friendly; but servile and fawning, never. No smoke of incense has blinded more eyes and caused more tears to flow than the incense of flattery.
And what about the itch to argue and to contradict just for argument's and contradiction's sake? I shall loathe it as something stupid, unmannerly, insufferable. Tolerance for all shades of opinion, as long as they are opinions not at variance with dogmatic truth, defined morals, or another's rights, ranks high among the loveliest virtues that adorn the human soul. It is more important to live in peace than to see my views prevail.
Excessive jocularity, when habitual, easily degenerates into buffoonery, insults, impudence; it stoops to coarse scurrility. Very few have the enviable gift of a restrained and delightful sense of humour, the cream of human talent.
And, in due measure, I shall love and practise silence, so useful to the religious man and priest. If I whittle my life away in garrulous nonsense, when or where shall I find time and leisure for my devotional exercises and for serious reflections on the eternal truths? When shall I devote myself to study, which is absolutely indispensable to me if I am not to forfeit my standing as a man of education, and render myself incapable of rising to the high demands of my life's calling?
Woe be to me if I am unable to control myself in the matter of speaking or remaining silent when my conscience bids! How many very grave indiscretions and sacrileges and crimes my talkativeness could expose me to! The priest has to be a closed and sealed coffer - such is the nature and quality of the secrets confided to his keeping; secrets natural, professional, sacramental or quasi-sacramental, which he has to guard with impenetrable reserve; secrets that no human force or power of persuasion or threats and torments or death itself should avail to rifle and wrench from him.
Do I measure up to these lofty standards? Or do I bring my priestly ministry into disrepute through womanish indiscretions of the tongue?
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!