Cardinal Sarah on mortifying the tongue

Here are some quotes from Cardinal Sarah on mortifying the tongue from his book, The Power of Silence, pages 36-41. 

The Carmelite Rule prescribes: “Be careful not to indulge in a great deal of talk, for… sin will not be wanting where there is much talk.”

Saint James compares the tongue to the rudder of a boat. It is a little piece of wood that allows the whole ship to be steered. The man who holds his tongue controls his life, as the sailor directs the ship. Conversely, the man who talks too much is a ship adrift. Indeed, garrulousness, the unhealthy tendency to externalize all the treasures of the soul by displaying them in season and out of season, is supremely harmful to the spiritual life. It sets out in the direction opposite to that of the spiritual life, which ceaselessly becomes more interior and deeper so as to draw near to God. Carried away toward the outside by a need to say everything, the talkative person is far from God and from all profound activity. His life is spent entirely on his lips and spills out in floods of words that carry off the increasingly meager fruits of his thought and of his soul. For he no longer has the time or the inclination to recollect himself, to think, to live profoundly. Through the agitation that he creates around him, he interferes with the fruitful work and recollection of others. Superficial and vain, the talkative person is a dangerous being. The now widespread habit of testifying in public to the divine graces granted in the innermost depths of a man’s soul exposes him to the dangers of superficiality, the self-betrayal of his interior friendship with God, and vanity.

We must learn, Thomas Merton says, that “the inviolability of one’s spiritual secrecy, the centre of the soul, depends on secrecy.”

True witness is expressed by the silent, pure, radiant example of the sanctity of our life.

Nowadays facile speech and the popularized image of the teachers of many lives. I have a sense that modern man does not know how to stop the uninterrupted flood of sententious, falsely moralizing speech and the bulimic need for corrupt icons. Silent lips seem impossible for people in the West… In the modern system, the silent person becomes someone who does not know how to defend himself. He is subhuman. Conversely, the so-called strong man is a man of words. He crushes and drowns the other in the floods of his speeches.

The silent man is no longer a sign of contradiction; he is just one man too many. Someone who speaks has importance and value, whereas another who keeps quiet gets little consideration. The silent man is reduced to nothingness. The simple act of speaking imparts value. Do the words make no sense? It makes no difference. Noise has acquired the nobility that silence once possessed.

Today many people are drunk on speaking, always agitated, incapable of silence or respect for others. They have lost their calm and dignity.

The conquest of silence has the bitter taste of ascetical battles, but God willed this combat, which is within the reach of human effort.

Without the silence that precedes it, speech runs the great risk of being useless chattering instead: “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

At the dawn of this new millennium, the silent ones are the persons most useful to society, because – creatures of silence and interiority – they live out the authentic dimension of man. The human soul does not express itself by words alone.

Keeping quiet by mastering one’s lips and tongue is a difficult, blazing, and arid work. But we must delve ever deeper into the interior realities that can shape the world usefully. Man must stand silently before God and tell him: God, since you gave me knowledge and the desire for perfection, lead me continually toward the absolute of love. Make me love more and more, because you are the wise artisan who leaves no work unfinished, as long as the clay of the creature does not oppose you with obstacles and refusals. I surrender wordlessly to you, O Lord. I want to be docile and malleable like clay in your hands, for you are a skillful, benevolent potter.

Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.

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