Using the power of words for good.

Posted by James Hahn on

With the advent of social media our culture has become increasingly anti-reading.  Maybe "anti-
reading" isn't really the correct phrase or word.  However, I do believe our culture is becoming reading averse.  I see this daily with my own writing.  The number of people who "like" this blog post on social media will outnumber the people who actually read it nearly 3 to 1.  Most folks would much rather flip through 20 minutes of Memes instead of reading an article or chapter in a book.

Yet the truth remains, words are powerful things.  Words can convey things that pictures cannot.  A picture may be worth a thousand words but the right combination of words can be worth thousands of pictures.  This is the very reason many people utter the phrase, "...yeah but the book was much better..." when discussing a movie.  Even millions of "moving pictures" don't contain the power of words.

The childhood nursery rhyme meant to assuage some painful bullying or nasty comments couldn't get it more wrong - "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."  That's not true.  Words often hurt far worse than physical pain.  I don't remember the pain that caused the scars on my legs but I certainly remember hurtful words spoken to me when I was merely 5 years-old.  Words can cause serious injury, even death (Shall I crucify your King?).  Words can cause emotional trauma, divorce, and wars.  Words can indeed "hurt me."

Words are also powerful in the positive sense.  They can build up, create, encourage, and bring life!  How about these powerful words - I do - I absolve you - I love you - Four score and seven years ago - One small step for a man - Today the guns are silent - Be it done unto me according to your word - This is my body, given up for you...

Words truly have power.  They have the power to destroy and the power to create (let there be light).  The power lies in the person wielding those words.  They can use their words as a sword or a trowel, a scythe or a scalpel.

In today's Gospel we see the power of words.  John the Baptist's words caused Herod and his wife great distress.  His calling them out on their adultery hurt and rather than change their ways, they took out their guilt and pain on John in way that silenced those words.  Herod's words too had destructive power.  Not only did his word cause the head of John to be cut off but his lust induced promise to the girl, his oath, were words that could not be rescinded.

How can we make sure we are using words in ways that help others and leads the hearer, us included, closer to Christ?  How can we bring words of light into a social media culture that can often cultivate discord through words typed on a screen, words that we would probably never say to another in person (beware, elections are right around the corner!)?  Trolls are no longer the creatures of fairy tales, they hide behind fake personas and come out to sow division and anger among us.  How can we keep our peace amidst so many words!?

St. Paul has a suggestion for all of us, "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear."  This would be a great verse for us to memorize.  I should print it out and paste it above my laptop screen!

What words are you using today?  Are they building up the hearer or tearing them down?  What words are you speaking to yourself?  Are they building you up or tearing you down?  Lord, give us the grace to speak Light, Grace, and Truth into a world that needs Love, Peace, and Healing.  Words have power but the Word has the Power to change hearts for eternity!

“Let us always guard our tongue; not that it should always be silent, but that it should speak at the proper time.   - St. John Chrysostom

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