THE MEANS OF PREVENTING SINS OF THE TONGUE
It is the opinion of the Fathers of the Church that a third part of all the sins committed in the world are sins of the tongue.
Sins of the tongue can be best avoided by checking talkativeness, and being guarded in our speech; moreover by making excuses for those whom we hear spoken against, and not repeat ing what is said of them.
We must not indulge the love of talking too freely. St. Augustine says that silence is the best preventive of sins of the tongue. He who knows how to keep silence will speak wisely. “He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his soul; but he that hath no guard on his speech shall meet with evils” (Prov. xiii. 3). “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin” (Prov. x. 19). While all the organs of the senses are open to sight, God has enclosed the tongue behind a double wall, the lips and the teeth, to warn us to be circumspect in our speech. You should be as careful in choosing the words you speak, as in selecting the food you eat. Holy Scripture compares the tongue to a sharp knife, because we ought to be as cautious in our use of it as the surgeon in the use of his knife, when he has to perform an operation on the human body. We should speak with all the more deliberation because what is once said cannot be as if it had not been said. We can no more recall the words we have spoken than we can the arrow we have let fly from the bow. Our Lord says: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the Day of Judgment” (Matt. xii. 36). Nay, He will even judge us by our words, for He adds: “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (v. 37). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. xviii. 21). Furthermore, if any one is spoken evil of in our presence, we ought to life up our voice in his defence. Holy Scripture says: “Open thy mouth for the dumb” (Prov. xxxi. 8), that is, for him who, being absent, cannot defend himself. If therefore, you hear the misdeeds of another spoken of, endeavor to show that he did not act from a bad motive; if that is impossible, then make excuses for the act on the plea of violent temptation, ignorance, or human frailty, and thus, at any rate, mitigate the harshness of the judgment passed on it. Or one may mention something to the credit of the person in question. This was St. Teresa’s invariable practice, and no one dared in her presence to utter a word of detraction. One may also express one’s disapproval by looking very grave, and thus putting the detractor to shame. It will have the effect of shooting arrows at a rock, the shaft will rebound upon the marksman. “The north wind driveth away rain, as doth a sad countenance a backbiting tongue” (Prov. xxv. 23). It is also advisable at once adroitly to change the conversation, and thus prevent the calumniator from pursuing the subject. By tolerating detraction one participates in the sin. We should never repeat any thing depreciatory which we hear said of our neighbor. “Hast thou heard a word against thy neighbor? Let it die within thee, trusting that it will not, burst thee. As an arrow that sticketh in a man’s thigh, so is a word in the heart of a fool” (Ecclus. xix. 10, 12). Be very cautious in speaking of your neighbor, lest unawares you may blight his whole future.