The power of what you say
Some of us, even some who are quiet in everyday life, overflow with words when we get online: filling up comment boxes, blogs, chat rooms, and other venues throughout cyberspace.
Today’s first reading (James 3:1-10) has important lessons for us.
First, St. James warns of the extra scrutiny that will fall upon those who instruct others by their words:
Not many of you should become teachers,
my brothers and sisters,
for you realize that we will be judged more strictly,
for we all fall short in many respects.
(This warning hits home for me, for I know painfully well how short I fall in many respects.)
Secondly, St. James says, control of one’s tongue is often the last great moral challenge: if we have progressed enough to control our tongues perfectly, we have attained true perfection.
If anyone does not fall short in speech,
he is a perfect man,
able to bridle the whole body also.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses
to make them obey us,
we also guide their whole bodies.
This, of course, does not just mean physical speech. Although “the tongue” is the principal metaphor here, what St. James is referring to here is the power of word and thought: a power of amazingly disproportionate force – within the human person and also in the world.
It is the same with ships:
even though they are so large
and driven by fierce winds,
they are steered by a very small rudder
wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes.
In the same way
the tongue is a small member
and yet has great pretensions.
Consider how small a fire
can set a huge forest ablaze.
The tongue is also a fire.
Our fallen nature in this fallen world makes this power – the power of word and thought – all the more perilous and often untamable.
It exists among our members as a world of malice,
defiling the whole body
and setting the entire course of our lives on fire,
itself set on fire by Gehenna.
For every kind of beast and bird,
of reptile and sea creature,
can be tamed and has been tamed
by the human species,
but no man can tame the tongue.
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
That is not to say that our power of thought and word is totally bad.
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 brothers and sisters, this need not be so.
Indeed, it should not be so.
We can stop hurting ourselves and hurting others with our tongues and minds.
We can stop mixing good things and bad in what we think and say.
Our thoughts and words can serve God and serve the common good, for that is why God gave us this power.
How can we do this? First of all, we can do this only by the grace of God. Therefore we must pray always for the grace of purity in heart, mind, and speech.
Secondly, on the basic human level, we need to develop good habits of speech and thought while breaking ourselves of older, wrongful habits.
Thirdly, we do well to watch our diet of words, thoughts and images: primarily by filling ourselves more and more with godly words and thoughts – by the reading of Scripture and holy spiritual authors and by taking advantage of the many wonderful Catholic and Christian music, audio, and video offerings available to us today
Finally, the closer we walk with the Lord the more our thoughts and words will be one with the Lord. Therefore we must always seek to draw closer to the Lord in prayer as well as in all the actions of our day.
There is great power in what we say. The Lord invites us to unite that power ever more to him (listening to him, as today's Gospel says - Mark 9:2-13), so that this power may reach perfection and our joy may be complete.
He hardly knew what to say,
they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
then from the cloud came a voice,
"This is my beloved Son.
"Listen to him."