Words have great power. They are capable of building up another – and equally capable of tearing down. Words can build bridges – but more often than not, they can build walls. And once spoken, our words can never be taken back. The effect of our words can be impossible to undo – so we need to choose very carefully when and how to speak.
Our world loves words – there is an endless stream of words directed toward us from every conceivable angle. Much of it is nothing more than opinion and a great deal of it tends to be critical in nature – toward another person, a group of people or an institution. Words such as these may be intended only to express a thought or opinion or observation – but regardless of that intention, they can often be hurtful and inflict very real damage on the character or reputation of another. And that is wrong. Our Holy Father has often spoken, for example, about the wickedness of gossip and the great damage it can do – not only to the person we are speaking about, but also to us as individual human beings; we damage ourselves and our own dignity as much as that of the other person.
Part of the issue with words is that we feel much less comfortable in silence – it is something we struggle with and we think of ‘an uneasy silence’, which needs to be filled with words in order to reduce our own anxiety. And so we speak – and often then regret what we have said.
In the spiritual life, we have an excellent example in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our Blessed Lady is shown in the Gospels to be economincal with words; although present, She says little. When She does speak, it is generally to praise God – the great example of this being Her wonderful ‘Magnificat’; or for the benefit of another person – for example, asking Her Son to come to the aid of the newly-married couple at Cana. Even at the moment of the Annunciation, She is recorded as saying very little, other than to confirm what is being asked of Her and then to give her assent.
We can learn a great deal from Our Blessed Lady. She is a model for us in so very many virtues, but this is one we can sometimes overlook – the virtue of silence.
That silence can then lead to various other virtues – actively listening to the Lord, rather than just constantly speaking in our prayers; limiting the potential to engage in the terrible sins of calumny and detraction; becoming more comfortable with interior – as well as exterior – silence, so that we find ourselves to be more at peace with ourselves and with those around us.
When we limit our words, we give a little more space for the Divine Word to speak within us; and when we are listening more attentively to that Word, we are better placed to hear what He is asking of us, and then to respond.
As our thoughts turn to our New Year resolutions, perhaps we might consider this as one of them – to speak a little less and to listen a little more.
In this intention, may the Blessed Virgin Mary assist us.