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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

The Mouth as a Lethal Weapon

November 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Detraction, Gossip, Patti Armstrong

We have all done it–said too much or said the wrong thing and regretted it later. Too often, opening our mouths releases gossip, complaints, or destructive words. Our tongue is a concealed weapon–the most lethal. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28). A gun or knife can wound the body, but inflicts no damage on the soul, yet the tongue can mortally wound it.

In theory, it would seem easy to control our tongue. It’s small and even can be kept locked up simply by shutting our mouths. Yet, for something that weighs so little, it so often weighs us down in sin.

for post on the mouth as a lethal weaponTalking is one of those things that we should quit while we are ahead. “In a multitude of words, sin is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). I am often guilty of this so I am not pointing fingers. I think women are especially vulnerable because we tend to be sociable and innately talk more than men–not that men can’t also wag a mean tongue.

Our tongues often seem to have a mind of their own and before we know it, we’ve blurted out too much information or something better left unsaid. Sometimes we mask gossip as concern–I’m really worried about her…. or excuse it as a need to vent or confide in someone. In reality, speaking poorly of someone disrespects their human dignity.

And yet, in the confessional, we need to acknowledge that we have sinned. I’ve heard some people say that as long as it’s true, it’s not really gossip. Or others know about it anyways, so it’s okay to repeat. But God reads what is in our hearts. If we do not have a valid reason to let someone know about something–information that they need to know to prevent a problem–then spreading scandal or reporting on bad behavior is simply not our God-given task. For me, I use the standard that if I won’t say it in front of the person or want them to know I said it, then I should not say it at all. Or, consider if you would mind if someone was speaking the same way about you, would you mind?

The Power of Words

Here are some common ways that our words get us into trouble.

* Detraction – repeating something true without a good reason (Sirach 21).

* Racial jokes that encourage hatred or sexual jokes which use impurity for entertainment (Ephesians 5:3-4).

*Calumny – talking about someone’s faults. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned…” (Luke 6:37).

*Sarcasm–a way to put others down and disguise it as humor.

*Arguing – speaking nasty or using biting remarks

*Criticizing —constant complaining and scolding to vent rather than desire to help another out of love. (Proverbs 21:9).

*Breaking confidences – “Don’t tell anyone else, but…..” (Proverbs 11:13)

* Listening to the words of others can be wrong“An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).

God gave us the gift of speech. We use it to praise and glorify him. Our words can evangelize and lift others up in spirit. But talking can also be a waste of time, empty, frivolous, and gossipy. It can take time away from our family, prayer or tasks we should be tending to.

Instead of talking to God, we often seek comfort through venting and say things against people that should be left unspoken. And once it’s out of our mouth, even trying to take it back does not completely undo bad impressions of those we’ve spoken about and how it reflects on our own character. Through our excessive talking we are also often on the receiving end of listening to gossip and the business of others.

Like any addiction–and talking is an addiction–it’s a day-by-day, ongoing task not to overindulge. For many, the first step is to recognize the times we let words lead to sin. This might mean asking God to reveal these times and asking him to help us use our speech appropriately. Many years ago, I had to confront one of the ways I was working to help support our family. I was writing articles for a tabloid newspaper that thrives on gossip and detraction. As I grew deeper in my faith and sought to live consistent with Catholic teachings, I decided to walk away from the money to save my soul. In God's Divine Providence, a better job fell into my lap.

Another way to stop misusing our speech is to avoid situations that often lead to gossip. Going out for coffee, talking on the phone too long, and other socializing occasions might be the times we are most guilty of using our tongue as a weapon. Avoid these situations altogether or cut them short. If those around us begin to gossip, counteract by saying something positive or laying it on the line: “I’m really trying to stay away from gossip,” then change the subject.

We can also pray for the gift of silence to St. Raymond Nonnatus a patron saint against gossip and sins of the tongue. He was a priest in Spain during the Eleventh Century. When Saint Raymond gave himself in ransom for prisoners in Algiers, his lips were pierced with a red-hot iron and closed with a padlock to prevent him from preaching Christ.

Through confession, our sins of the tongue will be absolved and we will receive graces to avoid them in the future. If additional incentive is needed, here is a thought to keep in mind: It is better to remain silent and let people think you are dumb than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

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Art for this post on the mouth as a lethal weapon: Detail from Netherlandish Proverbs, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1559, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Patti Maguire Armstrong

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Patti's Blog http://www.pattimaguirearmstrong.com. Facebook. Twitter.

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  • liberalismisamentaldisorder

    thank you for this article patti…all too true

  • Kelly

    Wow! Thank you for writing this article!

  • Rosemaid

    It seems I must so often pray, “put an angel on guard over my lips!” Thanks for your reference to St. Raymond Nonnatus. I’ve never heard of him before this. God bless one and all <

  • Jeanette

    I have been doing something that helps me a lot. When someone does me wrong, and if I’m not in the wrong, I will speak up for myself quietly and then I take it to the Lord Jesus. He is a great listener and advisor. I have decided not to tell anyone about these difficult times but to talk only to Jesus about it. So, I get to complain to Him and then I feel no need to complain to anyone else and this helps me avoid a temptation to sin. I have advised women who have come to me about complaints about arguments with their husbands to do the same.

    I do sometimes feel I must tell my spiritual director certain things that others do that impact my spiritual life so that I may get advice but I am careful to just say what is necessary.

    When I’m asked by someone how another person is, that’s when I get into trouble. I talk away giving all the good news about the person and then somehow I realize that inadvertently I’ve said something that I shouldn’t have…I know because I’m convicted about it right then or later.

    Another difficult problem is when someone gossips to you about someone. If I cannot escape the situation, I feign disinterest or change the subject. Sometimes I try to think of a good comment to turn the conversation around for the good. But I find the best way to handle it, if you cannot escape, is to not make any comment and then the gossip usually stops.

    The tongue is, indeed, a dangerous weapon, and so I, myself need to remember to pray this psalm: Psalm 141:3 Set a watch Lord, before my mouth and a door round my lips. Great post and really, really needed!

    • Jim

      I walk right into this minefield all the time. Have you ever noticed how much the book of Proverbs devotes to holding one’s tongue? If King Solomon had wanted to, he could have sat down and written “Proverbs, Chapter 1, verse 1: Keep your mouth shut and you’ll stay out of trouble.” If he had, the book could be half as long as it it.

      I like your solutions, especially the one about bringing the matter to the Lord and then letting it drop. Refusing to retaliate evil for evil is an imitation of Christ.

      St. Therese took this one a step further. Once when a sister placed a new vase in her cell, she exchanged it for a broken one from another cell without telling anyone. The first nun thought she had broken the new vase and reprimanded her for being careless. She never let on. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to remain silent in the face of false accusation as Christ had.

  • Linda Ricke

    What a great post! Your words ring true. I especially liked the insights on the masking gossip as concern. Confidentiality was broken about me in just such a manner several years ago, and it was extremely damaging to me. I will never forget its lesson. After moving to a very small town 7 years ago I have really learned about the pervasive nature of gossip. Thank you for addressing this difficult subject.

  • jmeyer3131

    What you are asking in this post is easy to see in others, often more difficult to see in ourselves. To live as you suggest is a very difficult way to live, and, I would think, a sure way to grow in holiness.

  • $1650412

    I have some friends who have been through a spiritually based rehabilitation program and they use a 4 S approach to emotionally charged moments and encounters that I am trying to develop a discipline of using myself. Respond with this pattern:1. Silence. 2. Swallow ( I guess this helps you stay silent. Prayerfully drink a bottle of water, both good for you, keeps you silent, hydrated, builds the idea of purity of intent with a visual, keeps you focused and prayerful, don’t act on the point until you get through that bottle of water!) 3. Suffer (suffer well! offer it up!) 4. Smile!
    Harnessing the tongue, so tough! I am relieved that Jesus didn’t say anything about cutting it out if you can’t control it! :o)

    • ThirstforTruth

      What interesting advice! Be silent, swallow, suffer and smile! So hard to imagine in practice. Can you see a table of ladies who lunch sitting silently and swallowing, while practicing suffering, and then simply smiling? I just cannot conjure it in my mind. The only place where I can see this happening perhaps, would be at a funeral luncheon…maybe !!! I am not trying to make fun of your excellent advice; I am just trying to see it in practice…..and having a hard time. On occasion I have tried sipping water while trying to think of graceful replies to some gossipy tongues….or in attempt to squelch my own. Usually works too! Now I will work on the “suffer and smile” part. Harnessing the tongue does not come easily or
      naturally for sure.

      • LizEst

        Why not turn the topic to God, spirituality, etc.? Remember that old saying, “Small people talk about things [other people], big people talk about ideas.”

        • ThirstforTruth

          Thanks Liz! We can always count upon you to come
          up with sound and charitable ideas. I might add to your words of wisdom: careful with whom you *lunch* !

          • LizEst

            You’re welcome ThirstforTruth. The glory, naturally, goes to God from whom all good things come. Of course, Jesus dined with all kinds…and He is welcome to lunch or dine with this sinner, any time! God bless you, ThirstforTruth.

  • LizEst

    Thanks Patti! This is particularly timely as we head into the Thanksgiving Day activities with family and friends here in the U.S. in about two weeks. Much food for thought to keep in mind.

    …and thanks to all who have posted excellent suggestions here as well. God bless you!

  • Elizabeth

    Calumny is actually saying something that is not true about someone with the intention to destroy that person’s reputation. It is a sin against the eighth commandment. It is what happened to Christ and was why he was crucified. Calumny’s root is envy.

    • ThirstforTruth

      Elizabeth….I found making this connection ( calumny is what crucified Christ) a very powerful antidote to my wagging tongue. I am just wondering what to talk about when gathering with the girls for lunch?
      Seriously! Maybe we should start a book club, so we can focus on a topic and stay away from general conversation, which usually amounts to what is gossip. It just seems whenever and wherever people gather tongues will wag! People are mostly unaware and perhaps those of us who have been brought up short here can lead the way to safe waters. I’ll try!

  • Aimliz

    Hi Patti! What a great article. Gossip is one of my greatest temptations, I do it without thinking, much of the time. My intention is not harmful, but we all know where the road of good intentions leads us. :). Anyway, I had never heard of St. Raymond either. Ouch… God bless him, I will have to pray and think about his suffering whenever i am tempted to go too far with my speech.
    Thank you for the great article, and the comments below were also great as well.
    In Christ

    • Patti Maguire Armstrong

      Thanks for your comments. I agree that it’s easy to gossip without thinking, or at least get started then realize it’s gossip but not having the self control to stop. It is a hard one to be sure. God bless you.

  • jcmeg56

    Great article. Sometimes I am tempted to become a hermit, because it seems like being around people at all becomes a near occasion for all these sins of the tongue! LOL.

  • RobinJeanne

    Great article… My spiritual director gave me this quote to live by (I suffer a piosonous tongue) “It is better to bite my tongue, than to have a biting tongue” I mmade a print of it and put it above my computer.

  • lroy77

    I plead the fifth-guilty as charged. My mother have said and I quote “your mouth could start a war”. I don’t gossip, but sometimes I speak before I think. As a result, I don’t talk as much to anyone-and that creates whole new problems because people now think I have mental issues. No wonder I have social problems.

  • Terese10

    Interesting article. I confess I gossip. In fact, I’ve started to realize I don’t know how else to relate to my women friends! You are not going to bring up spiritual things if you are out with a group of diverse coworkers! And the gossip at work is everywhere. I’ve been trying to bite my tongue and pray for people instead of gossip about them. It’s really hard to change.

    I’ve also been trying to think through more (and pray about) what gossip means in the workplace. If you talk about someone’s work with a coworker or boss in the context of work, is that really gossip? Not sure yet, trying to figure it all out. For now, I’m trying to stop what I know for sure would be gossip.

    Thanks for writing this article.

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