Saint James says, "If any man offend not in word, the same is, a
perfect man." (1) 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." (2) 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 (3) among us, for,
as he elsewhere tells us, "Evil communications corrupt good
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.