The Power of Words

Two phrases, one from the first reading by Sirach and the second from the Gospel reading, resonated with me to reflect on today’s readings. The first reading states, ” So a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of the mind. ”  The gospel by Luke reveals, “for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

It made me recall being told as a child that it is not necessarily what goes into the body that causes sin, but what comes out — notably what we say and how we say it.  When one thinks about this, one realizes that most common ‘sins’ we commit are related to speech: gossip, idle chatter, lies, exaggeration, harsh attacks and uncharitable remarks. With our tongue we can spread hatred, incite fear and maliciousness, spread misinformation, cause temptation, discourage, teach error and ruin reputations.  With a gift capable of bringing such good, we can surely cause great harm. Cher, in her song “If I Could Turn Back Time” stated, “Words are like weapons…they wound sometimes.” Proverbs 15:4 says, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life , but a deceitful tongue crushes the Spirit. “

We should, instead, try to use our tongues, our power of speech, to reflect “abundance of the heart”.  I was fortunate to have examples of the way we should speak to / treat others by the way my parents spoke to each other. I knew that they loved each other by the tone of voice each used; not a gushy demonstration, but I sensed the respect, kindness each felt towards each other in the daily grind of life. I remember, too, the day my dad was released from the Ottawa Civic Hospital after months of kidney illness. The nursing staff all came in to say their goodbyes and commented that they would miss him because, even though he was very ill, he always spoke politely and thanked them for anything they did for him. He used his “tongue” to reflect his spirit; his heart was truly reflected in his speech. I learned at an early age about the power of words.

Henri Nouwen has said that, “When we talk to one another we often talk about what happened, what we are doing, or what we plan to do. Often we say ‘What’s up?’ and encourage one another to share the details of our daily lives. But often we want to hear something else. We want to hear, “I’ve been thinking about you today” or  “I missed you” or 
“I really love you”.  It is not always easy to say these words, but such words can deepen our bonds with one another. Words of love and affirmation are like bread. We need them each day, over and over.  They keep us alive inside.

It is not always easy; when one becomes discouraged or on a ‘bad’ day or after being hurt by someone, to speak positively to those we encounter. Pope Francis said “Insults come as easily to us as breathing. But Jesus considers them as assault to the dignity of one of His children.”   If we take a few seconds to ‘think’ before we speak, and sometimes even keep silent when words could wound, while considering the impact they will have on the listener(s), then we can show the Christian spirit in our hearts.

Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. Words have energy and power; they are beacons of inspiration, enthusiasm and encouragement to all. Kind and sweet words are always music to the ears of the listener. Every true word that is spoken has the power to bind human society more closely together and make the burden of life easier to bear.

Help me Lord. Keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand near my mouth. Put your word in my heart so then when I do speak, it is really you speaking.


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