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The eleventh degree of humility is, that when a monk speaketh, he do so gently and without laughter, humbly, gravely, with few and reasonable words, and that he be not noisy in his speech, as it is written: “A wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”
The speech of a monk is gentle, not harsh; serene, not raucous; humble, not arrogant; gentlemanly, not boorish; measured, not impetuous. The Apostle says, “Let your speech be always in grace seasoned with salt: that you may know how you ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). Salt is clean; it preserves from corruption; it brings out what is tasty in food. Our Lord Himself says:
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of a good treasure bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of an evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Matthew 12:34–37).
A monk is never justified by speech that is sulky, snarky, or irascible. The short answer that delivers a barb is unworthy of a son of Saint Benedict. It is not enough to keep oneself from words that wound another; one must seek by one’s words to be for others a blessing, a comfort, and a joy. In a community where the tongues that bless God also bless one another, it is possible to sing in all truth:
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. (Psalm 132:1)
Especially in times of stress, hardship, fatigue, lone and disappointment, one must keep watch over one’s tongue. You all know, I think that acronym H-A-L-T; it stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Most sins of the tongue occur when a man finds himself in one of these four states. Gracious speech is a mark of every Christian but, according to Blessed Ildephonsus Schuster, it is the distinctive mark of the Benedictine monk for whom signorilità, refinement, is a mark of charity and of humility. Evil speech grieves the Holy Ghost. Does not the Apostle say:
Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and anger, and indignation, and clamour, and blasphemy, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ.
The sanctification of one’s speech calls into play all seven gifts of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The sanctification of one’s speech also expresses the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. On this glorious feast of Pentecost, let each one of us consecrate his tongue to the Holy Ghost!
O Divine Paraclete, Who who didst descend in tongues of fire upon the Most Holy Virgin Mary and of the Apostles at the Third Hour on the day of Pentecost, and didst open their mouths for the praise of the Father and of the Son, I give Thee my tongue and consecrate it to Thee. Do Thou purify it and sanctify it, making it a worthy instrument for the praise of God, for the blessing of the brethren, for the consolation of the afflicted, and for the communication of truth in charity.
Come, Holy Ghost! Set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips that I may be fit always, in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thy Immaculate Spouse, to magnify the Lord, to rejoice in God my Saviour, and to bring to every encounter, something of the joy that rose from the Heart of the Mother of my Lord, and came to flower on her lips.
Glory be to Thee, O Giver of Life, Who hast helped and comforted me. Let my lips rejoice exceedingly in Thy Seven Gifts! Let Thy Twelve Fruits be ever sweet to my palate, that I may praise Thee at every moment and, by Thy grace, exhale the fragrance of Thy indwelling presence, Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Son, today, and always, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.