How to govern the Tongue

December 18, 2021 • 5 min

From The Sinner’s Guide, page 407
By Venerable Louis of Granada

Section V.

The Government of the Tongue.

Here is a subject upon which there is much to be said, for we are told in Holy Scripture that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” [Prov. xviii. 21.] From this we can understand that the happiness or misery of every man depends upon the use he makes of this organ.

St. James asserts this truth no less strongly when he says:

If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body. We put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also ships, whereas they are great and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm whithersoever the force of the governor willeth. So the tongue also is, indeed, a little member and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire what a great wood it kindleth. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. [St. James iii. 2-6.]

To govern this great instrument for good we must bear in mind, when we speak, four things:

  1. of what we speak,
  2. how we speak,
  3. the time we speak,
  4. and the object for which we speak.

In regard to the first point, what we speak, remember the counsel of the Apostle:

Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. All uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be so much as named among you, as becometh saints, or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility." [Ephes. iv. 29, and v. 3, 4.]

As the sailor always bears with him a chart indicating the shoals and rocks which could wreck his vessel, so should the Christian bear with him these counsels of the Apostle indicating the shoals of speech which could wreck him in his voyage to eternity.

Be no less careful in guarding a secret which has been confided to you, for the betrayal of a trust is one of the vilest faults into which the tongue can lead us.

In regard to the second point, how we are to speak, let us observe a just medium between silence and talkativeness, between timidity and self-sufficiency, between frivolity and pomposity; always speaking with becoming gravity, moderation, sweetness, and simplicity.

Beware of haughtily asserting and obstinately persisting in your statements, for this fault gives rise to disputes which wound charity and destroy the peace of the soul. It is the part of a generous nature to yield in such contentions, and a prudent man will follow the counsel of the inspired writer: “In many things be as if thou wert ignorant, and hear in silence and withal seeking.” [Ecclus. xxxii. 12.]

Consider also the necessity of observing when you speak, and always endeavor to select a suitable time: “A parable coming out of a fool’s mouth shall be rejected, for he doth not speak it in due season.” [Ecclus. xx. 22.]

Finally, we must consider the end for which we speak.

There are some whose only purpose is to appear learned. Others desire to parade their wit and conversational powers. The first are thus led into hypocrisy and deceit, and the second become the sport of self-love and vanity.

It does not suffice, therefore, that our conversation be good in itself—it must be directed to some good end, such as the glory of God or the profit of our neighbor.

In addition to this we must also consider the persons to whom we speak. For example, it does not become the young to engross the conversation in the presence of their elders, nor the ignorant in the presence of the learned, nor lay persons in the presence of ecclesiastics or religious.

When you have reason to think that your words may be untimely or presumptuous, be silent. All persons are not capable of judging correctly in these points, and, therefore, in doubt, the wisest course is a prudent silence.

We shall thus conform to all the rules we have been considering; for, as the Wise Man says: “Even a fool, if he will hold his peace, shall be counted wise; and if he close his lips, a man of understanding.” [Prov. xvii. 28.]

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