We have heard that actions speak louder than words, which of course, is true. It is said that over 95% of the way we communicate is through our gestures, expressions, body language, and how we act. But what we say and how we say it, does have power; our words can inflict great damage, offer long-sought healing, shed enlightenment or insight, or lead someone to truth. The logical conclusion is to make sure we match what we say with what we do, and indeed, that is our goal. Words can be tricky, and often what we intend can be misinterpreted, even for the best of communicators, since all of us are ‘biased hearers’ formed by our past experiences or understanding. For help with how we might use our words and deeds rightly we can look to the clear teaching found in the gospel message of Jesus. Certainly what He taught should influence the way we use words, especially since He said that we should do all things with love, and that what we say can reveal what is in our hearts. This is not to minimize the effect of our actions, but it is important to also consider what we say since words are also a means of evangelization. Jesus instructed His followers to bring the Good News ‘to the ends of the earth,’ (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15) thus, it is important to consider the ‘tools’ we use.
Words convey meaning and intention. The intention of God was revealed when He sent His Son Jesus, who is the very Word of God; that is, Jesus is not only the ‘means,’ but He is the message. It is not an exaggeration that St. John the Evangelist referred to Jesus as the Word: in Jesus, God communicated His unfathomable love, and as a result everything Jesus said and did revealed God and His desire for us. (John 1:1-11) Because this is true, our words should give witness to the One whom we profess to follow. Therefore, what defines a person as a disciple is not only what they do, but also what they say since His followers are bearers of Christ to the world in every way. If we profess to be followers of Jesus, our words should be a way to evangelize, teach, heal, make peace, encourage, and even to lovingly correct. Words can also do the opposite if we are not careful, and the damage done by ill-placed words spoken in anger, for example, can last a lifetime.
On one occasion when refuting the Pharisees who were attempting to discredit Him, Jesus said that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out. (Matthew 15:11) That is, our words do matter, and reveal not only our intentions, but also what is really within our hearts. In his letter St. James elaborated on what he learned from Jesus, warning that “the tongue is a small member, yet has great pretentions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.” (James 3: 5) He went on to say: “from the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so….” (3:10) In other words, we have to learn to tame what comes out from us so that we are instruments of edification and of peace. We all know that words can slip out and hurt others; most likely more than once in our lives we have wished we could go back in time to retract something we said. We also know what it is like to be on the receiving end of words that cut to the core with hurt that can resonate through the years. The goal for us is to learn to tame our tongue, something which requires grace and is therefore attainable, but only if combined with our desire, prayer, and effort.
In order to follow Jesus and to conform ourselves to that which God has called us to do we must continually discern what we do and what we say. To ensure we speak and act with love, it is essential to stay connected to Jesus, the Word, particularly through time spent reading, praying with, and reflecting upon the gospels as well as in the private, silent prayer of dialogue with Him. We need to be specific as to what graces we ask of the Holy Spirit, such as self-control, patience or whatever is needed so that we use words to build up rather than to tear down. It would be good to do an examination of conscience, or as St. Ignatius taught, an examination of consciousness, each night before we go to bed to discern what the areas are in which we need the help of the Holy Spirit.* If we ask, we will receive, but we need to be consistent in our efforts so that even when we struggle with it, (and we will), we can continue to trust in the power of God’s love and His desire to help us grow.
The process of learning how to speak the love of God so that our words are consistent with our actions will help us become more attentive to Jesus, to consider what He would have us say and do. In turn this gives Him the opportunity to let His forgiveness and love wash over us. Our hearts will soften and change as we conform our will to His and invite Him to show us the way to proceed. Let us become beacons of the Word, glorifying Him with our lives.
May we desire to unite our words and deeds as instruments of evangelization and love! May we let the Holy Spirit teach us so that we speak words of love, especially in difficult situations! May we utilize the gifts of wisdom and discernment that we might speak the Word at all times! And may we glorify God as we grow in our discipleship! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola there is something called the Examination of Consciousness, often referred to by Jesuits as the Examen. A simple way to do this nightly examination is to address God the Father by mentioning the ways you responded to His gifts and graces throughout the day, and offering gratitude. Then address the Son, Jesus, mentioning the ways you failed to respond, perhaps in ways you sinned, asking for His forgiveness. Then address the Holy Spirit, asking for the appropriate grace to help with one of the patterns of sin you see, based on what you asked pardon for. This should take only a few minutes and is not meant to be a ‘fine tooth comb’ sort of thing such as we do before Reconciliation. Simply mention what comes up in a moment or two of reflection.
1. My photo, Matagorda Bay, TX.
2. Icon, Cristo Pantocrator by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in obtaining a copy you can purchase it in one of many mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/cristo-pantocrator-175-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. My photo, volcanic activity from Kilauea, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii (the Big Island of Hawaii). I chose this because it shows the destructive force of lava, which also builds up the island; therefore it both builds up and tears down.
4. My photo, my Bible.
5. Watercolor, Self Portrait, by John Absolon, (1815-1895)
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Heart Speaks to Heart