By Columban Missionaries

A few years ago the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year was “post-truth.” Every day people are subjected to many false words, “fake news,” “alternative truths,” and devastating comments on social media which in some cases have led to depression and even to suicide. Many would agree that there is surely more general verbal abuse today because of social media.

“Language,” a commentator on the radio recently said, “is being weaponized.” When words of hate and rage are being used as weapons, as seen on television, social media and in the press, we have a language that incites violence. On-line words often lead to off-line violence. This spills out into the wider society, onto the streets, into the hearts of the young and the old. The crime statistics tell the sorry story of increasing brutality in society. Our coarse, often inflammatory, words are more corrosive than acid.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Should we not, as followers of Jesus, seek to be radically counter-cultural and make a habit of using good words, words of peace, words that inspire and uplift?

Listen to the advice of St. Paul. “Speak the truth,” he urges. (Eph 4:25) No post-truths or alternative truths. And we must speak, not harshly or accusingly, but with charity, with kindness. To our friends, to our enemies, to those who slate us, demean us or despise us, speak the truth, avoiding gossip or any harsh judgements.

Our words, Paul goes on to say, should be such that they are a source of grace to those that hear. “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph. 4)

Our words, when they come from a listening heart truly have enormous power. They bring a blessing, they strengthen and build up the hearer. Like cool water in a desert, they can refresh and restore the wilting spirit, open a door of hope, fuel their stalled engine on the journey. How many young people have been transformed by the encouragement of parents or teachers? How many of us have been healed, by a wise word spoken to our heart? Kind and loving words and deeds make God present. When we listen to the word of God in our inmost being and respond to him then our words become truly powerful.

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