Read James Chapter Three…
One of the greatest gifts that God has bestowed upon us is the gift of communication—most specifically, the ability to speak to others. However, it must be stated with the utmost clarity: the tongue is a two-edged sword. It can accomplish enormous good; but it can also do tremendous evil.
JESUS AND OUR SPEECH. More than once has Jesus spoken about our speech and how we should regulate it. First, Jesus says the following: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Lk. 6:45) Meaning? What issues forth from our mouth is a clear sign of what we actually have within the depths of our being which is our heart. In other words, from a pure, humble, and clean heart will come forth noble, enlightening, and edifying words.
A SOLEMN WARNING FROM JESUS. Jesus, the Word made flesh of the eternal Father, also made this affirmation: “Every careless word that comes forth from your mouth will be judged.” (Mt. 12: 36) This statement can shock us into a serious reflection on how we are actually using the gift of speech. It is worthy of a serious examination of conscience. I like to imagine it in this fashion. Every time we open up our mouth, our Guardian Angel presses the play button on an audio recorder—Podcast, if you like. These words are recorded and we will take this before the Lord Jesus on the Day of our Judgment which happens at the very moment of our death.
AVOIDING USELESS WORDS. On another occasion, Jesus, once again referring to the use of our tongue in speech, says the following: “Let your conversation be Yes, yes and No, no. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Mt. 5: 37) In a very real sense, Jesus challenges us to work on curbing our tongue from uttering not only harmful words, but useless and frivolous chatter.
SAINT JAMES CHAPTER 3. Perhaps one of the best chapters in the Bible on the abuse of verbal communication, or if you like, the sins of the tongue, can be found in the heart of the Letter of Saint James—chapter three! This letter encourages us to think before we speak. He states that animals can be trained and ships can be directed, but the human tongue not so easily. In the Letter of Saint James, he reminds us that teachers will be held to a more strict account. Saint James also points out that with the same tongue that we praise God, we end up by speaking badly about our neighbor. A calm, tranquil and deep meditation on the Letter of Saint James, especially chapter three, can result in an enormous motivation for all of us to make a concerted effort on a daily basis to improve our manner of communication. Great advice: “Let us be quick to listen and slow to speak.” (Jas. 1: 19) The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis states: “Few have regretted not opening their mouths; many for having opened their mouths when they should not have.”
With Biblical words and worthy exhortations as a background, we would like to present a Plan or Strategy to help us improve our speech, upgrade our art of verbal communication. We would like to offer Ten Rules for Verbal Communication.
TEN RULES TO PERFECT OUR VERBAL COMMUNICATION…
1. PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. Of greatest importance in the daily pursuit of our personal sanctification is an ever-deeper union with the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity—the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. After Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon St. Peter and the Apostles, there was a radical change in them. No longer were they a group of timid, insecure and fearful men. On the contrary, they became valiant soldiers of Christ. Simon Peter, who denied Jesus three times that Holy Thursday night, on the day of Pentecost preached and 3,000 converts asked for Baptism, due to that one sermon. Let us beg the Holy Spirit to purify our hearts, minds and tongue so as to communicate the truth of God with great love.
2. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Saint James states this with astounding clarity: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (Jas. 1: 19) All too often our impulsive and impetuous nature dominates us and we say things that we regret as soon as they issue forth from our mouth. Remember these three words with regard to our verbal communication: Pray, think, speak. It should be done in that order.
3. GOLDEN RULE IN VERBAL COMMUNICATION. Jesus taught us the Golden Rule. Everybody understands this—believers as well as non-believers. “Do to others what you want them to do to you.” (Lk. 6: 31) This can easily be applied to speech: “Say to others what you want them to say to you.” We must have this Rule always before us when communicating with others; it can save us from many verbal pitfalls!
4. FILL YOUR MIND WITH TRUTH. Perhaps this is common sense, but it still should be stated: an empty mind has little to offer that will ennoble and enrich others. If a field is filled with weeds, they must be eradicated before planting good seed. Our mind can be compared to a field, or if you like a garden. Many weeds may be cluttering our minds. By applying ourselves to a daily dose of solid reading and reflection, we are preparing ourselves for a more noble form of communication. Jesus stated it clearly: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” This is what we began with in our exhortation.
5. EXAMINE YOUR CONSCIENCE DAILY. Make this a daily practice: examine your conscience and your life for that day. The Holy Spirit will point out to you certain actions that were off the mark. He may also shine the light on certain words in your conversation that were unkind, uncharitable, or inappropriate that have to be purified, changed and converted. This is truly an exercise in humility and truth.
6. ADVICE OF SAINT BERNARD—THREE POINTS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT. The great Saint Bernard, the Mellifluous Doctor, offers us this short but poignant advice on how we should communicate. “We should open our mouth motivated by these three intentions: “To praise God, to accuse ourselves, and to edify others.” Let’s try to put these into practice!
7. ANGRY, FRUSTRATED, AND EXHAUSTED. Keep this in mind: there is a time for everything underneath the sun. “A time to speak and a time to be silent.” (Eccl. 3:7) Most likely all of us have learned from experience that when we are angry, frustrated, tired, even exhausted, we are more likely to speak out and hurt others. When we find ourselves in this physical and emotional state, if at all possible, we should take some time away from people, try to calm down, revitalize our energies, and then come back to communicate so as to edify others by our verbal communication.
8. LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS—THE SAINTS. Let us get in the habit of reading the lives of the saints—they are our models. Read and reflect upon the writings, most especially, of the Fathers of the Church and the Doctors of the Church. Their written words, which in many cases were preached sermons, are full of heavenly Wisdom. Even saints who were not Fathers or Doctors of the Church can teach us by their words, as well as the example of their lives. We should all have favorite saints that we turn to. Let us get a little help from our Heavenly friends.
9. BECOME A CATECHIST. This suggestion may have taken you off guard, in relation to our topic, but that should not be the case. There is the reason behind this suggestion. Having been a catechist for many years, even before priestly ordination, it is a very efficacious means to help us to communicate—most especially the Word of God. To become a good catechist one must pray, study, prepare the lessons for the class, and then communicate the topic to the students. Of course, the heart of the class will be God, His Word, Sacred Scripture, prayer, Sacraments, and the Moral Teachings of the Church. Perhaps God is calling you to become a catechist to perfect your art of communication, learn and grow in your faith, and grow in holiness. Consider it!
10. OUR LADY: MARY, OUR LIFE, OUR SWEETNESS, AND OUR HOPE. Mary speaks seven times in the Gospel. (Do you know Mary’s Seven Words?) Aside from Jesus Himself, who is the eternal Word of God, no one ever communicated better than the Blessed Virgin Mary. To help us grow in holiness, and improve our verbal communication, it might be a very good suggestion to pray often to Mary for the gift of communication. However, at least on a daily basis, to pray Mary’s beautiful canticle of praise, known as the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of God and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”. Finally, when we speak, let us try to imagine that we are in the presence of Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph. What would they think about our manner of verbal communication? Indeed, this practice can help us to think before we speak, to praise God, and to edify our brothers and sisters by our lives, but most especially through our words! May God bless us and help us in this most noble pursuit!