Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 27

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII. Of Unseemly Words, and the Respect due to Others.

SAINT JAMES says, “If any man offend not in word, the same is, a
perfect man.” [130] Beware most watchfully against ever uttering any
unseemly expression; even though you may have no evil intention, those
who hear it may receive it with a different meaning. An impure word
falling upon a weak mind spreads its infection like a drop of oil on a
garment, and sometimes it will take such a hold of the heart, as to
fill it with an infinitude of lascivious thoughts and temptations. The
body is poisoned through the mouth, even so is the heart through the
ear; and the tongue which does the deed is a murderer, even when the
venom it has infused is counteracted by some antidote preoccupying the
listener’s heart. It was not the speaker’s fault that he did not slay
that soul. Nor let any one answer that he meant no harm. Our Lord, Who
knoweth the hearts of men, has said, “Out of the abundance of the heart
the mouth speaketh.” [131] And even if we do mean no harm, the Evil One
means a great deal, and he will use those idle words as a sharp weapon
against some neighbour’s heart. It is said that those who eat the plant
called Angelica always have a sweet, pleasant breath; and those who
cherish the angelic virtues of purity and modesty, will always speak
simply, courteously, and modestly. As to unclean and light-minded talk,
S. Paul says such things should not even be named [132] among us, for,
as he elsewhere tells us, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”

Those impure words which are spoken in disguise, and with an
affectation of reserve, are the most harmful of all; for just as the
sharper the point of a dart, so much deeper it will pierce the flesh,
so the sharper an unholy word, the more it penetrates the heart. And as
for those who think to show themselves knowing when they say such
things, they do not even understand the first object of mutual
intercourse among men, who ought rather to be like a hive of bees
gathering to make honey by good and useful conversation, than like a
wasps’ nest, feeding on corruption. If any impertinent person addresses
you in unseemly language, show that you are displeased by turning away,
or by whatever other method your discretion may indicate.

One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirises and
turns everything to ridicule. God abhors this vice, and has sometimes
punished it in a marked manner. Nothing is so opposed to charity, much
more to a devout spirit, as contempt and depreciation of one’s
neighbour, and where satire and ridicule exist contempt must be.
Therefore contempt is a grievous sin, and our spiritual doctors have
well said that ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word
against our neighbour, inasmuch as when we offend him in any other way,
there may still be some respect for him in our heart, but we are sure
to despise those whom we ridicule.

There is a light-hearted talk, full of modest life and gaiety, which
the Greeks called Eutrapelia, and which we should call good
conversation, by which we may find an innocent and kindly amusement out
of the trifling occurrences which human imperfections afford. Only
beware of letting this seemly mirth go too far, till it becomes
ridicule. Ridicule excites mirth at the expense of one’s neighbour;
seemly mirth and playful fun never lose sight of a trustful, kindly
courtesy, which can wound no one. When the religious around him would
fain have discussed serious matters with S. Louis at meal-times, he
used to say, “This is not the time for grave discussion, but for
general conversation and cheerful recreation,”–out of consideration
for his courtiers. But, my daughter, let our recreation always be so
spent, that we may win all eternity through devotion.

[130] S. James iii. 2.

[131] S. Matt. xii. 34.

[132] Eph. v. 3.

[133] 1 Cor. xv. 33.