“I have often regretted the words I have spoken, but I have never regretted my silence.” Venerable Arsenius the Great on the subject of discretion.
So often, as a parish priest, I was the author of my own difficulties because I was not master of my own speech, lacking the wise discretion that only comes with age and experience. The letter of James emphatically warns of the power of the tongue (3:1-10):
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”
Perhaps we will never fully master our speech in this life but with God’s help, moderation may prevail. Oscar Wilde once remarked concerning a friend: “He knew the precise psychological moment when to say … nothing.” Silence can speak volumes.
In our time social media must be regarded with the same vigilance as verbal speech – Facebook posts, texts, Instagram, Twitter, emails and blogs all of the power to do great damage, instantly passed around to the entire community.
Regarding discourse with parishioners, here are five suggested subjects where discretion may be beneficially employed. Most are obvious occasions to priests of experience.