Reflection: Our Tongue—Do We Value It?

by Father Don Thomas

As a rule, it is generally correct and safe to say that before we can determine whether or not something is being abused, it is most helpful to know what is the purpose or the proper use of that same thing. Apply this principle to anything. It may be a knife, a gun, some medicine, a plane, a hammer, our hands, and our eyes and yes, even our tongue. The proper use of a knife, for example, would be to cut bread or to spread peanut butter or jelly, but certainly not to cut off another person's head deliberately. That would be a misuse or abuse of the instrument. So it is with the tongue. God has given us this beautiful gift of the tongue for many good reasons or uses, such as to give Him the honor and glory that is His due through prayer or singing; to communicate as social beings with our fellow men and women by talking and exchanging or sharing ideas; to facilitate the art of eating, and other proper uses. These are a few of the proper uses of the tongue.

There are two abuses of the tongue that I would like to consider in this reflection. One is about the use of our tongue for bad language, and the other is about the use of the tongue for speaking unkindly to other people.

By way of momentary digression, let me say that on any number of occasions I have failed to appreciate this gift of the tongue. I truly regret that fact. As I look back over the years, I believe that what has helped me to see the importance and value of the tongue were situations where I saw patients in hospitals and they had lost their tongue due to the disease of cancer, or aids, or the effects of a stroke that has left them speechless. Time and time again did I see this and believe me, it had a profound effect on my appreciation for the tongue as a gift from God. Let us move on about the abuses.

First of all, there is improper language. Millions and millions of people have believed in and continue to believe in the ten commandments of God, and the second one is "You shall not take God's name in vain". In vain, of course, simply means, "When it is not called for". Again, for those who may be interested, in 1846, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to two children at LaSalette in France. Among the sins she made a reference to was the abuse of her Son's name in vain. She said: "The men cannot drive their carts and wagons without taking my Son's name in vain". She indicated how displeasing this abuse was to Almighty God and that her reason for coming to LaSalette was to urge men, women and children to change their ways before it was too late. I believe that as human beings, we should all realize that the second commandment includes not just taking God's name in vain, but it includes all slang and vulgar words as well; it includes perjury as well, by which we use our tongue to lie under oath, as if God is standing right there as our witness. What is said about this whole situation is that for the most part, we abuse the tongue in these ways without realizing it most of the time. It has become such a habit that the words are out of our mouths before we even realize what we have said. This fact may diminish our culpability but it does not eliminate the lack of appreciation for the beautiful gift of the tongue. That is what is said about this entire misuse of the tongue. It shows a clear lack of gratitude for what God has given us. I have often kidded about and wondered why we have to take the name of Jesus Christ in vain. Why can't we choose any other name like Babe Ruth, or Hitler, or George Washington? No, because of our pride or stubbornness or stupidity, we call on the name of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us—something no one else has done for us. If we resolve to eradicate the bad habit, it has to be by taking one day at a time and by realizing how hard it would be without a tongue, not to mention how disappointed God must be with us.

The second abuse of the tongue we can reflect upon is "talking about others". In the third chapter of the book of James, there is the most precious wisdom about the power of the tongue, as well as the harm produced by its abuse. The tongue is compared to a tiny spark that can cause a forest fire, destroying thousands of acres; the tongue is compared to the "bit" that is used to control a mighty horse, determining whether the horse move to the right or left, forward or backwards or to a stop; and the tongue is compared to a rudder beneath a large boat, determining the direction in which it will move. Yes, it even points out that with the same tongue we are blessing and praising God and almost in the same breath we are taking His name in vain, we are cursing Him. Again, it is so important to be logical and consistent in our faith. If we believe that the greatest commandment is love of God and love of neighbor, we have to realize that by talking about our neighbor or criticizing them and hurting them verbally, we are not showing love.

Often people are confused and ignorant in this area, because many times someone has spoken unkindly about another person, and when they are encouraged not to do that, they will snap right back and say "But, Father", it was true". That does not justify what you said about your neighbor, because if it were true, your sin or fault is called detraction; and if what you said was a lie, then you are guilty of calumny. Both are wrong, and you have abused your gift of speech, your gift of the tongue. Now doesn't it become clearer than ever what those special words mean: If you cannot say anything good about a person, it is better to say nothing at all . Let us all control and respect our tongue. It is a most powerful instrument that can do a lot of good, or harm.

 

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