Words from the Heart
[Ecc.:27:4-7; 1Cor.15:54-58; Lk.6:39-45]
Today, let’s focus on words, and let’s begin with a story.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), the famous English poet and painter, was once approached by an elderly man.
The old fellow had some sketches and drawings he wanted Rossetti to see and to say if they had any potential. Rosetti looked them over carefully, but thought they were worthless. He saw no talent in them.
But Rosetti was a kind man, so he gently told the old man that the pictures had little value and showed little talent. He was sorry, but he couldn’t lie to him.
The visitor was disappointed, but seemed to expect this response. He apologised for taking up Rossetti’s time, but asked that he just look at a few more drawings, done by a young art student.
Rossetti looked over the second lot of sketches and became very enthusiastic. ‘Oh, these are good!’ he said. ‘This young student has great talent. He should be given every encouragement as an artist. He has a great future if he will work hard and stick to it.’
Rossetti could see that this old fellow was deeply moved. ‘Who is this fine young artist?’ he asked. ‘Is it your son?’
‘No,’ he replied, sadly. ‘It was me, forty years ago. If only I’d heard your praise then, instead of discouraging words. I gave up too soon.’ [i]
This story reminds us that words can help and heal, but they can also do great harm. What we say, and even what we don’t say, can so easily build someone up, or tear them down.
When we speak, people not only hear the sounds we make, but they can also sense our attitudes and deeply-held beliefs. Whether they’re written or spoken, our words reflect who we really are. They reveal our character and our inner-most thoughts about the people and world around us.
Rudyard Kipling once described words as, ‘… the most powerful drug used by mankind. Not only do (words) infect, egotise, narcotise, and paralyse, but they also enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain …’ [ii]
Why are words so powerful? It’s because they flow from our hearts (Lk.6:45). What we say and the way we say it reflects what’s in our hearts, and our hearts are our deepest source of strength.
In fact, the whole universe began with God’s divine Word. As St John tells us, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ’ (Jn.1:1).
And now, it’s our words that are shaping the world that God has given us.
In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus offers us three very brief parables. Firstly, he asks if the blind can lead the blind. Then he warns us about noticing a splinter in someone else’s eye, while overlooking the log in our own. And finally, he says that a healthy tree cannot produce rotten fruit.
Together, these three parables remind us that we must choose our words very carefully. We must make sure we know what we’re talking about, because it’s so easy to hurt others and to lead them astray if we ourselves are misled.
Our first reading says something similar. It tells us that just as rubbish is left behind when we shake a sieve, so our faults become obvious when we speak. And just as a fiery kiln tests the work of a potter, so our conversation is the test of our own personal quality and purity.
But the point is that all this starts with our hearts. For our words to be good, our hearts need to be well-formed. Indeed, if the well of our hearts is polluted, any water we draw from it will also be spoiled.
As children we learn from our parents and teachers, and we hope that they’re wise. As adults we keep learning, but there’s always a risk that we can be misled. There are so many unhealthy and unhelpful influences out there.
That’s why we all need God’s guidance: only Jesus offers us the way, the truth and the life (Jn.14:6).
Our words are powerful symbols of life, of culture and of everything we think and feel. They come from our hearts.
Every day, most of us speak thousands of words. That gives us plenty of scope to either help or hurt others.
So, let’s remember what Mother Teresa once said: ‘Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.’
[i] Gary L Carver, Gotta Minute? CSS Publishing Co, Lima, Ohio, 2020:147.