By Rev. Fr. John Patrick Tindana, Catholic Archdiocese of Accra
It can be said without doubt that one of the greatest gifts of God to humanity is the gift of speech. Through this gift, we are able to communicate our feelings, ideas and thoughts in various ways, verbally and non-verbally, to others. Speech, then, is a powerful tool of reaching out to others.
The question to ask, then, is how well do we use this power of speech? Everything boils down to the tongue. This is because, without the tongue, we are not able to vocalise our feelings, ideas and thoughts.
This year, I took a short break from my regular activities in Accra, Ghana, to visit another parish in the United States of America. This is a parish far away from the busy city life of Manhattan, New York. It is located on Long Island, NY.
After my two-month stay, I was due to return home to Ghana. With the present pandemic, I had to do a COVID-19 PCR test, as required by the government of Ghana. I did the test on Saturday, but as at the following Monday the results were not out, and that was the day I was supposed to fly out. Without the results I could not fly out and had to rebook for the next day.
I called one of my friends, Dennis Reardon, a very lively person, on the phone and told him, something like, “I am really messed up”. His first response was, “talk to me”. This simple statement, “talk to me”, was like a cold water poured on me on a very hot and scorching day. It calmed me down because it gave me the assurance that he was ready to help me in whatever way possible. And indeed he did help me to do the PCR test at the JFK airport and fly out as scheduled.
Watch your words
Many of us, in one way or another, are not conscious of the power of our speech. If that were not the case, we would be careful not to utter careless words. The point is that, whereas we may be able to apologise for using hurtful words, we may not be able undo the pain they caused.
The book of James (3:1-12) talks about taming the tongue. In an uncompromising way it compares the tongue to fire, calling it “a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). The sacred writer goes further to say that the tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
It is universally known, that, through the power of speech, some leaders have moved people to action – for better or for worse. Adolf Hitler was a charismatic leader who used his power of speech to cause so much harm. Hate speech is also cited as the main fuel that led to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
In spite of those who used their power of speech to cause so much harm, we can also talk of those who used the same power of speech to do so much good. For instance, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was able to use his power of speech to move a whole race, if not the whole world, to embrace a movement of non-violence in order to bring about equality and social justice. As Christians, we can also cite the power of Jesus’ words and actions that have inspired and positively challenged us to live a better life. He himself said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
We need to examine ourselves and evaluate how well we use our words. In fact, if we do not undertake this examination and self-evaluation, we may end up bringing pain and sorrow to people. But we are not supposed to be a people who make life difficult for others. No. We rather bring relief to those burdened and challenged, just as my friend Dennis Reardon did for me.
St. James says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (3:9-10). Let me emphasize: “THIS SHOULD NOT BE.” As Christians, and people of good will, we cannot use the same tongue we use to praise God to cause others pain.
When I returned from the USA, I met my friend Kelvin Ntiamoah-Sarpong of St. James Catholic Church, Osu-RE. After exchanging pleasantries, he told me that, about three months back, he and others saw me deep in the night praying the holy rosary on the compound of the church, and I told them, “I am praying for you.” Kelvin told me, “That statement made a deep impression on me, and I have always wanted to tell you.”
This short story is to once again buttress the point on the power of speech. The Bible says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29, NLT). This biblical injunction should be taken seriously. Foul or abusive language should be far from us who are called to proclaim the good news.
The sacred writer says everything we say should be good and helpful. In other words, it is better to keep quiet if what we are going to say would not be good and helpful. We want to use our power of speech in a positive way, to inspire and encourage people. Anything short of this is unnecessary.
After this brief reflection, let us resolve to be careful with our choice of words. The fact that we are eloquent in speech does not mean we should be careless with it. Let us not forget the hurts Hitler and others caused with their negative and hate speech. Let us get inspired by the positive speech of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and especially those of Jesus Christ.
Whenever you are tempted to use a negative word, pause and consider the long-lasting effect, and reconsider your decision. In our world of stress, positive and encouraging words are priceless. Let’s use them!