Speech can display a good heart

By Fr. Jack Treloar | For The Compass | February 23, 2022

The use and abuse of speech are major topics in the reading from Sirach and the Gospel passage from Luke. Sirach says, “The fruit of the tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” Jesus says in Luke, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces goodness, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

These two admonitions concerning the use and abuse of speech provide an excellent measure concerning the practice of oral communication for our own time.

Both Sirach and Jesus equate destructive speech with wickedness and good speech with moral integrity. In our own experience we know people who rarely say something good about another person or group of people. Their evil speech flows out like a polluted river, or as our authors say “bad fruit from a bad tree.” We also know people who practice congenial speech that tries to build up other people and their efforts.

Perhaps the most glaring abuse of speech comes from the person who makes a career of lying.

Lying is destructive, not only of truth in an abstract sense, but can also devastate other people’s careers, family life and friendships. Jesus says, “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Lying puts an evil heart on display in a particularly strong way. The liar will use harassment, insult and all sorts of other hurtful speech. Speech itself becomes a weapon used against another. This kind of speech discloses the evil bent of a person’s mind.

Speech, however, can also display a good heart. The good-hearted person speaks well of others and tells the truth. Sometimes it is embarrassing to speak truth for it takes much more skill to speak truth without injuring another than it is to concoct a lie. The speech of a good person is full of concern for the well-being of others. The good person will use speech to encourage, express sympathy, advocate truth or seek friendship. Like the good tree, as Jesus says, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces goodness.”

In the Walt Disney movie “Bambi,” there is an early scene shortly after Bambi is born. He is still having trouble standing and walking. All the other animals are present when he tries to take his first steps and fails miserably. A young rabbit, Thumper, says something like, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?” The mother rabbit reprimands Thumper for these unkind words, saying, “Thumper, what did your father tell you this morning?” Thumper shamefacedly says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all.” Not only from Scripture but from this children’s movie, too, we can all learn a lesson about the appropriate use of speech.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

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