Article from Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers by The Very Reverend P. Lejeune, 1913

No one has described better than the Apostle St. James, how great a power the tongue has for good or evil in our spiritual life “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He is able also with a bridle to turn about the whole body.

“For if we put bits into the mouths of horses, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body.

“Behold also ships, whereas they are great, and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about by a small helm, whithersoever the force of the governor willeth.

“Even so the tongue is, indeed, a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood.

“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is placed among our members, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of our nativity, being set on fire by hell.

“For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of the rest, is tamed, and hath been tamed by man.

“But the tongue no man can tame a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

“By it we bless God and the Father: and by it we curse men, who are made after the likeness of God.

“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (St. James, Ch. III, verse 2-10.)

Which of the two, man or woman, guards the tongue better, and suffers less from a prurience to speak? This is an odious question which I shall not venture to answer. I shall leave it to those moralists who are more solicitous to give point to an epigram than to observe facts.

It is relatively easy to ridicule woman’s excessive desire to talk, and her horror of silence. But a man who might have at his service the wit of Rabelais, or the cunning humor of La Fontaine, would not be a fair judge in a debate of this kind.

Therefore the simplest way out of the difficulty is to confess that this prurience to talk is a defect of human nature, and a temptation which all of us, men and women alike, must vigorously combat.

What is the aim of that woman who gives herself up to continual babbling? Her aim, of course, is to shine among her acquaintances, to win their esteem, and compel their admiration.

But she often finds that she has attained a result diametrically opposed to that which she sought.

If she is wise, she can often read on the faces of her listeners, those words which were uttered in the time of Cicero : “Empty barrels make the most noise.” She seeks to please those with whom she converses, and lo! she wearies and fatigues them.

“If babblers suffered as much as they make others suffer,” says one of the ancients, “they would soon be cured of their excessive desire to speak.”

My daughters, here is a just duty which is incumbent upon you. You must keep a severe guard over your conversation.

Now your principle aim, I take it, is not to have yourselves reputed as persons of fine style and agreeable intercourse. You are Christians, hence you regard the opinion of God a thousand times more than that of the world. Therefore, you will pay more attention to arguments of the supernatural order, than to worldly arguments.

I conjure you to exercise a severe vigilance over your words, because, according to the teaching of Holy Scripture, sin is always accompanied by an unbridled loquacity and useless babbling.

My daughters, you know from experience that all conversation in which you have not guarded the tongue, was a source of remorse to you. You know well that from such and such a visit, during which you have yielded to your excessive desire to gossip, you have come away with a troubled conscience.

The question arose in your mind and demanded an answer, “Was the fault that I committed grave?”

Now this question did not always proceed from an exaggerated delicacy of conscience. It was the expression of a well-founded fear of having fallen into mortal sin.

Be on your guard, my daughters. You are on dangerous ground when you give expression to every thought that passes through your mind.

You must take counsel from God, and say to Him: “Have I the right to say this?”

If you are not extremely watchful you will fall before you know it, and unwittingly exceed the limit which separates venial from mortal sin.

Let me give you the teaching of Catholic theology on this matter : Every slander is grave when it is of such a nature as to cause serious injury to your neighbor’s reputation.

It is not necessary to know the gravity of the slander by searching out what damage it has actually caused to your neighbor. It is sufficient to ask yourself this question: “Was this slander of such a nature as to injure my neighbor?” If it was not, there is a venial sin, if it was, the sin is mortal.

To know why this teaching of Catholic theology is so severe, let us invert the order.

Suppose you have been slandered. Oh then what a clamor you make. All vengeance, divine and human united cannot weigh too heavily upon the impudent wretch who has dared to sully your reputation.

Judge then the value that your neighbor attaches to her reputation and conclude that God is right in becoming the defender of the absent against the wickedness of the slanderer.

It is useless to affirm to yourselves or your friends, with your eyes raised towards Heaven, that you have the purest of intentions. This fashion of stabbing your neighbor, for the greater glory of God, is disgusting. It cannot be too deeply branded.

I know of no more repugnant spectacle than that of a person who makes a profession of piety, and then tears her neighbor’s reputation to pieces.

But how shall we brand the act of that person who communicates frequently, and who, in a gathering of friends, becomes the echo of malevolent words which do injury to some good work, or taint the reputation of some cleric.

“Oh my dear, I do not believe a word of it myself, but this is what someone said about Father so and so.”

But are you, who repeat these remarks, aware that in thus converting these slanderous words into one stream, you become the echo of the slander of others? I judge your action very severely, and I tremble when I find you piously posing before the Holy Table on the next morning.

“When a doctor visits a sick man,” says a certain moralist, “he asks to see his tongue. That organ gives him a certain indication as to the general health of the sick man. So, from a spiritual point of view, we can tell the condition of the soul by the tongue.”

My daughters, if you abandon yourselves to all the intemperances of the tongue, it is a positive sign that your souls are spiritually ill. If, on the contrary, you keep a strict watch over the tongue and prevent its excesses, rejoice: your soul is spiritually healthy.

Learn to judge yourselves by this rule. Generously sacrifice for God’s sake, every word however trivial it may be, which might offend against the virtue of charity, or cause injury to your neighbor.

The homes of many who pretend to be Christians are often schools of slander, mockery and disparagement. If an unbeliever were to assist at a repast in one of these families pretending to Christian etiquette, and reputed to be practical Catholics, he would be astonished to find malignity where he looked for the full blossom of charity, that chosen flower of the Master.

What a responsibility hangs over those mothers who tolerate these detestable practices, and who, instead of holding up a high ideal to their children, let them wallow in vulgar gossip, and even encourage them in their deplorable propensity to criticize and defame every one and everything.

I conjure you, my daughters, to preserve a strict watch over your tongues, and never to pronounce before your children one single word that is contrary to charity. Then only will you have the right to preach the horror of scandal to them.

Moreover, in this matter, your example is the only preaching needed. You are the model for all the members of your family. Let this sentiment of your responsibility, stimulate you to reject from your conversation, all rash judgments, and every habit of criticism which your children might adopt unknown to you.

St. Augustine had these words posted in his refectory: “Speak not ill of the absent.” This motto proved that he was not only a saint but also a man of honor.

My daughters, you will do well to post up this motto in your homes, at least in practice. You yourselves should see that your family lives up to it.

Your voice, with a sweet firmness, should remind those who are prone to forget, that with you, and before you, no evil must be spoken of the absent.

“A desire to be beautiful is not unwomanly. A woman who is not beautiful cannot properly fill her place. But, mark you, true beauty is not of the face, but of the soul. There is a beauty so deep and lasting that it will shine out of the homeliest face and make it comely. This is the beauty to be first sought and admired. It is a quality of the mind and heart and is manifested in word and deed.” – Beautiful Girlhood, Mabel Hale (afflink) Illustration by

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