SERMON XL. ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. – ON THE VICE OF SPEAKING IMMODESTLY.
“He touched his tongue, …. and the string of his tongue was loosed.” MARK vii. 33, 35.
IN this day’s gospel St. Mark relates tlie miracle which our Saviour wrought in healing the man that was dumb by barely touching his tongue. “He touched his tongue and the string of his tongue was loosed.” From. the last words we may infer that the man was not entirely dumb, but that his tongue was not free, or that his articulation was not distinct. Hence St. Mark tells us, that after the miracle he spoke right. Let us make the application to ourselves. The dumb man stood in need of a miracle to loose his tongue, and to take away the impediment under which he laboured. But how many are there on whom God would confer a great grace, if he bound their tongues, that they might cease to speak immodestly! This vice does great injury to others. Secondly, it does great injury to themselves. These shall be thetwo points of this sermon.
First Point. The man who speaks immodestly does great injury to others who listen to him.
1. In explaining the 140th Psalm, St. Augustine calls those who speak obscenely “the mediators of Satan,” the ministers of Lucifer; because, by their obscene language, the demon of impurity gets access to souls, which by his own suggestions he could not enter. Of their accursed tongues St. James says: “And the tongue is a fire,… being set on fire by hell.” (James iii. 6.) He says that the tongue is a fire kindled by hell, with which they who speak obscenely burn themselves and others. The obscene tongue may be said to be the tongue of the third person, of which Ecclesiasticus says: “The tongue of a third person hath disquieted many, and scattered them from nation to nation.” (Eccl. xxviii. 16.) The spiritual tongue speaks of God, the worldly tongue talks of worldly affairs; but tlie tongue of a third person is a tongue of hell, which speaks of the impurities of the flesh; and this is the tongue that perverts many, and brings them to perdition.
2. Speaking of the life of men on this earth, the Royal Prophet says: “Let their way become dark and slippery.” (Ps. xxxiv. 0.) In this life men walk in the midst of darkness and in a slippery way. Hence they are in danger of falling at every step, unless they cautiously examine the road on which they walk, and carefully avoid dangerous steps that is, the occasions of sin. Now, if in treading this slippery way, frequent efforts were made to throw them down, would it not be a miracle if they did not fall? “The Mediators of Satan,” who speak obscenely, impel others to sin, who, as long as they live on this earth, walk in the midst of darkness, and as long as they remain in the flesh, are in danger of falling into the vice of impurity. Now, of those who indulge in obscene language, it has been well said: “Their throat is an open sepulchre.” (Ps. v. 11.) The mouths of those who can utter nothing but filthy obscenities are, according to St. Chrysostom, so many open sepulchres of putrified carcasses. “Talia sunt ora hominum qui turpia proferunt.” (Hom, ii., de Proph. Obs.) The exhalation which arises from the rottenness of a multitude of dead bodies thrown together into a pit, communicates infection and disease to all who feel the stench.
3. “The stroke of a whip,” says Ecclesiasticus, “maketh a blue mark; but the stroke of a tongue will break the bones.” (Eccl. xxviii. 21.) The wounds of the lash are wounds of the flesh, but the wounds of the obscene tongue are wounds which infect the bones of those who listen to its language. St. Bernardino of Sienna relates, that a virgin who led a holy life, at hearing an obscene word from a young man, fell into a bad thought, and afterwards abandoned herself to the vice of impurity to such a degree that, the saint says, if the devil had taken human flesh, he could not have committed so many sins of that kind as she committed.
4. The misfortune is, that the mouths of hell that frequently utter immodest words, regard them, as trifles, and are careless about confessing them: and when rebuked for them they answer: “I say these words in jest, and without malice.” In jest! Unhappy man, these jests make the devil laugh, and shall make you weep for eternity in hell. In the first place, it is useless to say that you utter such words without malice; for, when you use such expressions, it is very difficult for you to abstain from acts against purity. According to St. Jerome, “He that delights in words is not far from the act. “ Besides, immodest words spoken before persons of a different sex, are always accompanied with sinful complacency. And is not the scandal you give to others criminal? Utter a single obscene word, and you shall bring into sin all who listen to you. Such is the doctrine of St. Bernard. “One speaks, and he utters only one word; but he kills the souls of a multitude of hearers.” (Serm. xxiv., in Cant.) A greater sin than if, by one discharge of a blunderbuss, you murdered many persons; because you would then only kill their bodies: but, by speaking obscenely, you have killed their souls.
5. In a word, obscene tongues are the ruin of the world. One of them does more mischief than a hundred devils; because it is the cause of the perdition of many souls. This is not my language; it is the language of the Holy Ghost. “A slippery mouth worketh ruin.” (Prov. xxvi. 28.) And when is it that this havoc of souls is effected, and that such grievous insults are offered to God? It is in the summer, at the time when God bestows upon you the greatest temporal blessings. It is then that he supplies you for the entire year with corn, wine, oil, and other fruits of the earth. It is then that there are as many sins committed by obscene words, as there are grains of corn or bunches of grapes. O ingratitude! How does God bear with us? And who is the cause of these sins? They who speak immodestly are the cause of them. Hence they must render an account to God, and shall be punished for all the sins committed by those who hear them. “But I will require his blood at thy hand.” (Ezec. iii. 11.) But let us pass to the second point.
Second Point. He who speaks immodestly does great injury to himself.
6. Some young men say: “I speak without malice.” In answer to this excuse, I have already said, in the first point, that it is very difficult to use immodest language without taking delight in it; and that speaking obscenely before young females, married or unmarried, is always accompanied with a secret complacency in what is said. Besides, by using immodest language, you expose yourself to the proximate danger of falling into unchaste actions: for, according to St. Jerome, as we have already said, “he who delights in words is not far from the act.” All men are inclined to evil. “The imagination and thought of man*s heart are prone to evil.” (Gen. viii. 21.) But, above all, men are prone to the sin of impurity, to which nature itself inclines them. Hence St. Augustine has said, that in struggling against that vice “the victory is rare,” at least for those who do not use great caution. “Communis pugna et rara victoria.” Now, the impure objects of which they speak are always presented to the mind of those who freely utter obscene words. These objects excite pleasure, and bring them into sinful desires and morose delectations, and afterwards into criminal acts. Behold the consequence of the immodest words which young men say they speak without malice.
7. “Be not taken in thy tongue,” says the Holy Ghost. (Eccl. v. 16.) Beware lest by your tongue you forge a chain which will drag you to hell. “The tongue,” says St. James, “defileth the whole body, and inflameth the wheel of our nativity.” (St. James iii. 6.) The tongue is one of the members of the body, but when it utters bad words it infects the whole body, and “inflames the wheels of our nativity ;” it inflames and corrupts our entire life from our birth to old age. Hence we see that men who indulge in obscenity, cannot, even in old age, abstain from immodest language. In the life of St. Valerius, Surius relates that the saint, in travelling, went one day into a house to warm himself. He heard the master of the house and a judge of the district, though both were advanced in years, speaking on obscene subjects. The saint reproved them severely; but they paid no attention to his rebuke. However, God punished both of them: one became blind, and a sore broke out on the other, which produced deadly spasms. Henry Gragerman relates (in Magn. Spec., dist. 9, ex. 58), that one of those obscene talkers died suddenly and without repentance, and that he was afterwards seen in hell tearing his tongue in pieces; and when it was restored he began again to lacerate it.
8. But how can God have mercy on him who has no pity on the souls of his neighbours?”Judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy.” (St. James ii. 13.) Oh! what a pity to see one of those obscene wretches pouring out his filthy expressions before girls and young married females! The greater the number of such persons present, the more abominable is his language. It often happens that little boys and girls are present, and he has no horror of scandalizing these innocent souls! Cantipratano relates that the son of a certain nobleman in Burgundy was sent to be educated by the monks of Cluni. He was an angel of purity; but the unhappy boy having one day entered into a carpenter’s shop, heard some obscene words spoken by the carpenter’s wile, fell into sin, and lost the divine grace. Father Sabitano, in his work entitled”Evangelical Light,” relates that another boy, fifteen years old, having heard an immodest word, began to think of it the following night, consented to a bad thought, and died suddenly the same night. His confessor having heard of his death, intended to say Mass for him. But the soul of the unfortunate boy appeared to him, and told the confessor not to celebrate Mass for him that, by means of the word he had heard, he was damned and that the celebration of Mass would add to his pains. O God! how great, were it in their power to weep, would be the wailing of the angel-guardians of these poor children that are scandalized and brought to hell by the language of obscene tongues! With what earnestness shall the angels demand vengeance from God against the author of such scandals! That the angels shall cry for vengeance against them, appears from the words of Jesus Christ: “See that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father.” (Matt, xviii. 10.)
9. Be attentive, then, my brethren, and guard your selves against speaking immodestly, more than you would against death. Listen to the advice of the Holy Ghost: “Make a balance for thy words, and a just bridle for thy mouth; and take heed lest thou slip with thy tongue and thy fall be incurable unto death.” (Eccl. xxvhi. 29, 30.)”Make a balance” you must weigh your words before you utter them and”a bridle for thy mouth” when immodest words come to the tongue, you must suppress them; otherwise, by uttering them, you shall inflict on your own soul, and on the souls of others, a mortal and incurable wound. God has given you the tongue, not to offend him, but to praise and bless him. “But, “ says St. Paul, “fornication and all uncleanness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints.” (Ephes. v. 3.) Mark the words” all uncleanness. “ We must not only abstain from obscene language and from every word of double meaning spoken in jest, but also from every improper word unbecoming a saint that is, a Christian. It is necessary to remark, that words of double meaning sometimes do greater evil than open obscenity, because the art with which they are spoken makes a deeper impression on, the mind.
10. Reflect, says St. Augustine, that your mouths are the mouths of Christians, which Jesus Christ has so often entered in the holy communion. Hence, you ought to have a horror of uttering all unchaste words, which are a diabolical poison. “See, brethren, if it be just that, from the mouths of Christians, which the body of Christ enters, an immodest song, like diabolical poison, should proceed.” (Serm. xv., de Temp.) St. Paul says, that the language of a Christian should be always seasoned with salt. “Let your speech be always in grace, seasoned with salt. “(Col. iv. 6.) Our conversation should be seasoned with words calculated to excite others not to offend, but to love God. “Happy the tongue,” says St. Bernard, “that knows only how to speak of holy things!” Happy the tongue that knows only how to speak of God! brethren, be careful not only to abstain from all obscene language, but to avoid, as you would a plague, those who speak immodestly. When you hear any one begin to utter obscene words, follow the advice of the Holy Ghost: “Hedge in thy ears with thorns: hear not a wicked tongue.” (Eccl. xxviii. 28.) “Hedge in thy ears with thorns” that is, reprove with zeal the man who speaks obscenely; at least turn away your face, and show that you hate such language. Let us not be ashamed to appear to be followers of Jesus Christ, unless we wish Jesus Christ to be ashamed to bring us with him into Paradise.