Jesus said that we will be judged on all of the words that have come out of our mouths. We will have to render an account on the Day of Judgment. He also said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Then Jesus said, “Let your speech be ‘yes’, ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘no’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Saint James chapter three is the classical chapter on the sins of the tongue. The blunt and to the point letter encourages us to control the tongue.  “We should be slow to speak and quick to listen.” Also the person that has control over his tongue is pursuing true holiness of life.

Given that the control of our tongue and the content of our speech and conversation are of such enormous importance, how can we learn to control this little member of ours that Saint James compares to a little spark of fire that can ignite a forest-fire?

Following are concrete and specific rules that we should all take into account in our daily battle to control our tongue so that our words serve to give honor and glory to God and to sanctify our neighbor.

1.    PRAYER TRANSFORMS—EXAMPLE OF ST. PETER.   Recall St. Peter denied Jesus with his tongue Holy Thursday night after Jesus made the prophecy that before the cock crowed he would deny him three times. Cowardice got the best of him!   Transformation through prayer!   With Mary and the Apostles, Peter made the first novena by praying and fasting. The Holy Spirit descended on Peter and the Apostles in fire. Then Saint Peter got up and preached a powerful sermon and 5,000 were converted. Prayer which brought the Holy Spirit transformed Peter’s heart and tongue. If you pray well, Jesus will breathe forth on you the Holy Spirit and he will teach you how to speak!

2.    SPIRITUAL READING.   Many people have little to say because little is in their head! Nobody can give what he does not have!  An empty mind will result in giving very little in speech!  Get into the habit of doing some form of spiritual reading on a daily basis, at least fifteen minutes, better yet, a half hour or more! What to read?  The Bible, the lives of the saints, church documents, the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Documents of Vatican II—and much more!  A well-formed spiritual mind will result in good speech and conversation!

3.     THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK!   An impulsive and impetuous temperament can wreak havoc. We should not always speak our mind or say the first thing that comes to our minds! We must learn to ponder, be more reflective, more interior and think before we speak. For that reason the advice of Saint James hits the mark:  “We should be slow to speak and quick to listen.”

4.    IF YOU HAVE NOTHING NICE TO SAY DO NOT SAY IT!   Advice that our mothers gave to many of us years past and still words of wisdom! At times indeed silence is golden. If our mind is confused, angry and our heart bitter, best to calm down and purify our hearts and intentions and then speak!
5.     GOLDEN RULE APPLIED TO SPEECH.   We all know the Golden Rule:  “Do to others what you want them to do to you.”  Why not give this rule a twist: “Say to others what you would like them to say to you!” The golden rule is universally understood!

6.     “THE WAY YOU SAY IT!”   All too often we may be expressing the truth but with a loud, imperious, dominating, arrogant and cutting tone of voice. It is not only what we say, but also how we say it! How true the words of the “Gentle and saintly Bishop (and Doctor) of the Church” Saint Francis de Sales when he said:  “You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.” How often children complain:  “Mom tone it down; do not scream!”
7.    ANGRY?   Calm down first! How often has it happened that when under a cloud of anger and passion we open up our mouths and as soon as the words come flooding like a Tsunami we regret it?  But, once the words have been expressed, it is too late! Angry?  Move out of the situation! Pray for interior peace! Calm down! Then once the animal has been tamed, return!

8.     THE PRESENCE OF JESUS, MARY, AND SAINT JOSEPH.   Of enormous help, especially in helping us to control the mortal weapon we have in our mouths---- the tongue—is cultivating the habit of living constantly in the presence of Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph. St. Teresa of Avila noted that we often sin because we become oblivious to the presence of God in our lives. Being aware of the noble presence of Jesus Mary and Saint Joseph can serve as an efficacious curbing of the tongue against possible verbal bomb shells!
9.    AVOID GOSSIP AT ALL COSTS!   Pope Francis has reminded us in more than one of his pastoral and paternal talks of the danger of the tongue.  He has gone so far as to say that we can kill others with our tongue. The tongue can be transformed into a pistol and the words are bullets that penetrate and kill the heart.   We all have a right to our reputation and good name. The gossiper or slanderer kills with his tongue!

10. SAINT BONAVENTURE’S THREE EXCELLENT RULES OF SPEECH.  This great doctor of the church, friend of Saint Thomas Aquinas, gives us three excellent rules to follow to guide our speech and conversations:

a)    PRAISE GOD!  Our tongues should be used to praise God. An interesting note!  About three hundred years later another saint, Saint Ignatius of Loyola in his Principle and Foundation reiterates the same truth:  “Man is created to praise God, reverence God, serve God and to save his soul.” (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius #23). Start and end your day with praising your Creator!
b)    ACCUSE YOURSELF! We are all sinners! The just man falls seven times a day! Saint Augustine observes:  “The less we examine our own conscience, the more we judge and condemn others.”  We should first examine our own conscience and accuse ourselves of our faults; this is humility. Then, off to the confessional!  At the start of Mass we accuse ourselves of sinning in “thought, word, deed, and omission, through my own grievous fault….” (Mass, Confiteor).  The person that honestly comes to terms with his own sinfulness will not so easily point the finger of condemnation at his neighbor!

c)      EDIFY YOUR NEIGHBOR.  St. Bonaventure ends by encouraging us to use our speech to edify our neighbor.  The word edify actually means to “Build up”, to construct. Our words should not be destructive, but constructive! May Saint Barnabus be our model and guide. He was always encouraging the members of the early church.  “Barnabus” actually means “Son of encouragement.”

In conclusion, let us render praise and thanks to God for giving us the wonderful gift of speech. May we always use our words and speech to communicate the truth with love. May Our Lady be our inspiration and guide who praised God with these sublime words: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”