8th Sunday of OT | Sirach 27:4-7; Lk 6:39-45
A young man went and joined a very strict monastery. In this monastery, the monks were only allowed to speak two words every ten years. So, the man entered and started his life of work and prayer. After ten years, the Abbot indicated to the man that it was time for him to say his two words. The man said “bed hard”. He then got back on with his life. After another ten years, the Abbot told the man that it was time for him to speak another two words. This time he said, “food bad”. The man then went back to his monastic life of prayer and work. After another ten years, the Abbot told him it was time for him to speak another two words. This time the man yelled out “I quit”. To this, the Abbot responded to those who happened to be around him, “I knew he would not last. He has been complaining for the last 30 years!” (source). Today’s readings have something to tell us about complaining and other kinds of negative ways of speaking.sourceBoth the first reading and the Gospel teach us that the way we speak reveals what is going on inside our heart. There are many simple indicators or tests which tell us the quality or state of something. For example, performing a litmus test on a liquid shows the acidity or alkalinity of the fluid. On a car are often found various indicator lights. When one of these lights begins to shine, such as the engine indicator light, then we know that there is something in our car that requires our attention. If we injure a bone in our body, having an x-ray done is a quick way of determining if we have a fracture. If we want to determine the state of our heart, whether we are in a good or bad place, a simple test we can perform is to pay attention to the way we talk. Our words reveal what is in our heart. In the first reading from Sirach, we heard that we should, “praise noone before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested” (Sir 27:7). In the Gospel, Jesus tell us that “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). The way we speak can be a good indication of our inner state. If we speak positively and in an encouraging way, then our heart is probably at a good place. If we complain and speak negatively a lot, then perhaps we are experiencing some problems.
The more we allow ourselves to engage in negative and complaining speech, the worse the state of our hearts can become. For example, the more that we complain about a particular person, the more harshly we will view that person. The more we gripe about our work, the more negatively we will view our work. In the Gospel, Jesus cautions us again negative speech. We should be careful not to point out the speck in our brothers eye while ignoring the beam in our own. Negative speech can be a bit like rubbing salt in a wound or throwing gasoline on a fire. It can make wounds in our heart worse. Here, it is probably helpful to make an important distinction. In his book, “Community and Growth”, Jean Vanier explains that as we go through life we can often become burdened with feelings of heart, pain and frustration. Sometimes it can be necessary to unload these hurts on someone in a process we sometimes call venting. In venting, another person become our dustbin who collects the trash that is building up in our hearts. Jean Vanier explains that this practice can be helpful as long as we vent to someone who has the wisdom to listen to us, realize that what we are saying comes from a place of hurt, and are able to steer us in such a way that we can develop a more positive outlook on the situation. Although there are situations, such as venting to the right person, in which complaining and some negative speech can be helpful, it is also risky. Complaining and negative speech about people or situations can make us feel more negatively towards these areas in our life. It makes a wound in our heart worse.