St. Francis de Sales pointed out that our words are a faithful index to the state of our soul. He wrote, “Our hand is quickly raised to the spot where we are wounded, and our tongue turns as quickly to the subject we delight in.”
If we love God, we will frequently speak of Him. The saint said, “Always speak of God as God, by which I mean reverently and piously, never pompously as if you were preaching, but with gentleness, charity, and humility.”
The saint pointed out that we should not use many words that are unprofitable. In conversation, quality matters more than quantity.
He wrote, “Our aim should be to avoid both extremes. An excessive reserve and stiffness, which stands aloof from familiar friendly conversation, is untrusting, and implies a certain sort of contemptuous pride; while an incessant chatter and babble, leaving no opportunity for others to put in their word, is frivolous and troublesome.”
Modesty in conversation
St. Francis urged the faithful to exercise modesty in conversation and to avoid any impure expressions. He wrote, “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.”
The saint advised that “If any foolish person addresses you in unseemly language, show that you are displeased by turning away, or by whatever other method your discretion may indicate.”
We should avoid a spirit of mockery in conversation. However, a play upon words, in all modesty and good-humour, is not harmful. Only we must beware of turning it into mockery, which causes laughter at the expense of our neighbour.
Sins against truth
St. Francis warned against the sins of rash judgment, detraction, and slander. A person commits the sin of rash judgment when, without sufficient reason, he believes something harmful to another’s character.
The saint pointed out that we must seek the motives of rash judgments in order to cure it. Some people judge others harshly out of bitterness or pride. Others do so to excuse their own vices or through a feeling of dislike. A good remedy against rash judgment is charity, for “Charity thinks no evil” (1 Cor. 13:5).
St. Francis wrote, “It is not always wrong to doubt our neighbours. We are forbidden to judge, not to doubt; but still we should not indulge doubt or suspicion without great caution, and only insofar as these are based on reason and argument, otherwise our doubts and suspicions are rash.”
A person commits the sin of detraction when, without good reason, he makes known the hidden faults of another, and a person commits the sin of calumny or slander when by lying he injures the good name of another.
St. Francis wrote, “He who unjustly takes away his neighbour’s good name is guilty of sin and is bound to make reparation, according to the nature of his evil speaking; since no man can enter into heaven cumbered with stolen goods, and of all worldly possessions the most precious is a good name.”
“Slander is a kind of murder; for we all have three lives: a spiritual life, which depends upon the grace of God; a bodily life, depending on the soul; and a civil life, consisting in a good reputation. Sin deprives us of the first, death of the second, and slander of the third.”
“But the slanderer commits three several murders with his idle tongue: he destroys his own soul and that of him who hearkens, as well as causing civil death to the object of his slander; for, as Saint Bernard says, the devil has possession both of the slanderer and of those who listen to him, of the tongue of the one, the ear of the other.”