Think before you speak!
“As your penance, I would like you to bring to me a fresh-chicken!” the priest said as he concluded  his  giving his penance to this penitent! Shocked to say the least, the penitent wanted to clarify, to make sure she heard it right!   “Yes” the priest retorted, “I want you to bring to me a chicken!”  Off the woman went in pursuit of a chicken, still dumbfounded as to the unique style of this priest.

After a diligent search, the woman found the chicken and obediently brought it to the priest as he requested.  “Father, here is your chicken. Very creative penance, to say the least!”

The priest rejoined, “Your penance is not over just yet!”  The woman humbly responded, “What more, Father?”   Nearby was a ladder that was leaning on the Church wall that led and ended in the Church’s bell tower. At the end of the ladder was also a window that could be jostled and opened at will.

The priest continued: “Now, Lady, I would like you to take all of the feathers off the chicken and place them in a bag.  Then, I would like you to climb to the very top of the ladder.  Next, will be to gently push open the window. Finally with the chicken feathers under your arm, I would like you to throw and scatter all of the chicken feathers to the four-winds.”

The chicken without feathers
With great caution and precision the woman obeyed the priest. She carefully climbed the ladder, pushed open the window, and with the feathers gently tucked beneath her arm, she launched the feathers to the four-winds. As circumstances were, that day the wind was blowing strong in all directions!

Huffing and puffing as she made her descent, the woman had to admit that this was the most creative and original penance she had ever been asked to carry out in her entire life! She told the priest this!

Collect all those feathers!
The priest intervened and said that her penance was not over, but was just beginning. The rest of her penance would be to gather every one of the feathers that she had launched out the window and had been scattered in one-thousand different directions.  The woman responded, “Father that would be impossible!”  However, the priest’s response was cutting and to the point. “Woman, it would be much easier for you to gather and collect all of those feathers than to restore the name of the person that you ruined because of your uncontrolled tongue!”

This woman had damaged the good name of another person and the damage had spread far and wide like the feathers scattered in a thousand different directions, like a wild-fire spewing out in hundreds of different directions. The name of this priest is the famous “Second Apostle of Rome”, Saint Philip Neri! known for his good humor and long hours in the confessional!

In the past few months the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been preaching on the poisonous effects of gossip and the uncontrolled tongue. Following we would like to highlight three negative effects of the uncontrolled tongue and what we can do to remedy this serious, all too prevalent problem in the modern society!

1.    PERSONAL POISON!  Pope John Paul II noted that sin has five effects: theological, social, ecclesial, cosmic, and personal.   By bad-mouthing, gossiping, detracting, slandering another person, really we are damaging seriously our own spiritual life and possibly placing in jeopardy our eternal salvation. Jesus reminds us that every useless word that we utter we will have to render an account on judgment day.  Therefore we should think and pray before we speak! St. James puts it bluntly: “We should be slow to speak and quick to listen!” Not bad advice!

2.     SOCIAL POISON!  Not only do we hurt ourselves by our sins of the tongue, we damage the person that we have maligned. Every person has innate dignity as a person as well as a right to have his own good name and reputation defended. For that reason the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that slander can be categorized under the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill!” The reason being?  One can kill another person by damaging and killing his good name.

3.    HURTING GOD! When we sin it is not always easy to connect our personal sin with wounding God.  This is partially true because God indeed exists (He is the essence of Being and existence); however, God is invisible to the human eye.  Nonetheless our sins do hurt God. The best and most graphic way to bring this truth to our mind is to contemplate Jesus hanging on the cross. All of the excruciating pains He underwent were due to our personal sins, and those of the tongue!

How might we seek a remedy to control our all too “uncontrollable tongue”? In our pursuit of holiness, the tongue must be controlled through the grace of God and our sincere arduous effort!

Mary and the Apostles
1.    HOLY SPIRIT.  The Apostles made many mistakes in word and deed during the Public ministry of Jesus. Peter even denied Him three times. However, a radical change took place in all of the Apostles on Pentecost. They prayed and fasted nine days with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire and endowed them with the gift of languages. They were able to speak well and to preach and teach the Word of God to the whole world. All of us should undergo our own personal Pentecost experience and beg God for self-control of the tongue!

2.    IMAGINE JESUS, MARY AND ST. JOSEPH present when you are speaking. In the presence of the Son of God, His Blessed Mother, and Holy St. Joseph, it will be much easier to control what we say and eventually say about other people. Never did Jesus, Mary, or St. Joseph speak negatively about anybody in their entire lives, nor should we! May these three greats--- Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, inspire us to use our tongue to glorify God and to edify our neighbor!

3.    GOLDEN RULE APPLIED TO SPEECH! One of the teachings of Jesus easiest to understand is the Golden Rule, which is:  “Do to others what you would like them to do to you.”  All of us understand this rule, whether we are believers or not! Why not apply this Golden Rule of actions to our speech patterns? Before opening up our mouth to gossip, detract, bad-mouth, slander or calumniate the other, why not think about ourselves? How would I like it if somebody were pointing out my defects, airing publically my dirty clothes, blackening my good name, preaching to the four-winds my shadows and dirt? None of us rejoices in others speaking ill of us; nor should we do it to others!  In other words, we must learn to be kind and charitable in thought, deed and WORD! May God help us to use our tongue to glorify His holy Name and to edify and encourage our neighbor!