The primacy of gracious speech

In his otherwise very good homily at Holy Mass on Thursday, 09-January-2014, Pope Francis (commenting on the first Reading from 1 John 4:11-18) said something which could be misleading:

There is a question we must each ask ourselves: “If I abide in Jesus, if I abide in the Lord, if I abide in love, what do I do for God – not what do I think or what do I say – and what do I do for others?”. Therefore, he said “the first criteria is to love with deeds, not with words”. “The wind carries away our words: today they are here and tomorrow they are gone”.

In his zeal to see a more visibly loving Church, it is clear that Pope Francis significantly underestimates the importance and the power of words.  Most often, the first encounter of other persons with us will be their hearing of our words.  The way in which people express themselves in words has been seriously corrupted by our culture, as well as by our lack of knowledge of Sacred Scripture.  Ordinary conversation is now laden with negativity, complaining, sarcasm, slander, gossip, hypocrisy, falsehood, vulgarity, lack of eye contact, no smile, feeble efforts at humor in order to mask insecurity, and fear of mentioning our Lord and anything related to Him.  Our disordered desire for isolation has produced people who increasingly neglect to acknowledge others with a simple, friendly greeting.  The first impression we make on someone will likely be with our words, and contrary to Francis’ belief that “the wind carries away our words,” that first impression is often one which is lasting.

If we are truly disciples of Jesus, we should be seeing the face of Christ in everyone we encounter.  We should also be striving to have whatever we say to others be born of self-giving love.  Our speech should be filled with friendliness, affirmation, gratitude, truth and graciousness:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one. (Colossians 4:6)

Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another….No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.  (Ephesians 4:25,29)

The LORD loves the pure of heart; the person of winning speech has a king for a friend.  (Proverbs 22:11)

Opportunities to do loving deeds for those we encounter in daily life are relatively infrequent.  In contrast, every one of those encounters offers us the opportunity to speak words in a loving manner.  Loving actions can often be impersonal, and therefore easier to perform.  It’s possible to “love with deeds” and not actually be in the presence of the person who is the recipient of your love.  However, many of us find it intimidating and uncomfortable to look someone in the eye and, with a smile, affirm them, express our gratitude to them, or gently correct them.  One-on-one conversation is a very personal encounter.  This is precisely why it is so enduring.

Do not underestimate the primary importance of expressing our love with words, especially in our families!!!