CHARITY TO BE PRACTISED IN WORDS.
St. Bernard says the tongue of a detractor is a three¬edged sword. It destroys the reputation of the neighbour; it wounds the souls of those who listen to the detraction; and it kills the soul or the detractor himself by depriving him of Divine grace. If a serpent bite in silence, he is nothing better that backbiteth secretly -(Eccles. x. 11).
To practise fraternal charity in words, you must, above all, abstain from every species of detraction. The talebearer, says the Holy Ghost, shall defile his own soul, and shall be hated by all-(Ecclus. xxi. 31). Yes, he shall be an object of hatred to God and to men, and even to those who for their own amusement applaud and encourage his slanderous language. Even they shall shun him; because they justly fear that as in their presence he has detracted others, so before others he will slander them. St. Jerome says that some who have renounced other vices cannot abstain from this. “They who have abandoned other sins continue to fall into the sin of detraction.” Would to God that even amongst those consecrated to God there were not to be found some whose tongues are so sharp that they cannot speak without wounding the character of a neighbour! God grant that such people may not meet the fate of a certain slanderer, who, according to Thomas Cantimpratensis, died in a fit of rage, and in the act of lacerating his tongue with his teeth. St. Bernard speaks of another sianderer. who attempted to defame the character of St. Malachy; his tongue instantly swelled and became filled with worms. In this miserable state the unhappy man died after seven days.
But how dear to God and to men are those who speak well of all! St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say that if she knew anyone who had never in his whole life spoken ill of a neighbour, she would have him canonised. Be careful, then, never to utter a word that savours of detraction. Above all, be on your guard against every expression that is in the slightest degree apt to injure the character of your Superiors. By speaking ill of them, you would destroy in your companions the spirit of obedience, as you would diminish. respect for their judgment and authority. The sin of detraction is committed, not only by imputing to others what is not true, by exaggerating their defects, or by making known their hidden faults, but also by representing their virtuous actions; as defeetive, or by ascribing them to a bad motive. Is is also detraction to deny the good works of others, or to question their claims to the just praise bestowed upon them. To render their calumnies more credible, some people begin by praise and end with slander. Such a person, they say, has a great deal of talent, but he is proud; he is very generous, but at the same time very vindictive.
Ah, my God, look not upon my sins, but upon Jesus, Thy Son, Who has sacrificed His life for my salvation. For Jesus’ sake have pity upon me, and pardon all the offences I have committed against Thee, but especially those I have committed by my want of charity towards my neighbour. Destroy in me, 0 Lord, whatever displeases Thee, and give me a sincere desire to please Thee in all things.
Let it be your care ever to speak well of all. Speak of others as you would wish to be spoken of by others. With regard to the absent, observe the excellent rule of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi: “Never to utter in their absence what you would not say in their presence.” And should you ever hear someone speak ill of others, be careful neither to encourage his uncharitableness nor to appear pleased with his language; otherwise you will partake of his guilt. You should either reprove him, or change the subject of conversation, or withdraw, or, at least, pay no attention to him. Hedge in thy ears with thorns, says the Holy Ghost; hear not a wicked tongue -(Ecclus. xxviii. 28). Against detraction, hedge in your ears with thorns, that it may not enter. Whenever, then, you hear a person speak ill of others, it is necessary to show, at least by silence, by your countenance, or by downcast eyes, that you are not pleased with the conversation. Conduct yourself always in such a way that no one will in future dare attack the character of another in your presence. And when it is in your power, charity requires of you to take the part of the person who is detracted. Thy lips are as a scarlet lace-(Cant. iv. 3). My spouse, says the Lord, I will have thy lips as a scarlet lace; that is, according to the explanation of St. Gregory of Nyssa, your words must be full of charity, so as to cover as much as possible the defects of others, or at least to excuse their intention, if their actions be inexcusable. “Excuse the intention,” says St. Bernard, “if you cannot excuse the act.” The Abbot Constabile, as Surius relates, was called “The covering of his brethren.” For this holy monk, as often as he heard anyone speak of the defects of others, sought to cover and excuse them. Such, too, was the practice of St. Teresa. Of her her Religious used to say that in her presence their character was secure, because she would defend them.