We have a special duty to everyone even in our thoughts. Rash judgments and suspicion, envy and ill-will against one’s neighbour, have no place in the deliberate thoughts of the true Catholic. Nearly all avoidance of evil and all practice of virtue must begin in our thoughts. If we deliberately allow ourselves to think evil, we shall soon find ourselves speaking evil and doing evil. Even in our thoughts and imagination we must apply the principles and ideals which we wish to be dominant in our daily life.
The faults of the tongue are innumerable, and it is noteworthy that even in people who are otherwise quite virtuous one often finds an uncharitable tongue. There is a wide field here for the practice of virtue and quest of holiness. So much so that the Holy Spirit tells us by pen of St. James: ‘If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man’ (James 3:2). Let us remember that every word we utter or every insinuation we make to the detriment of our neighbour is an injury done to Christ. There are occasions when one must speak unpleasant truths about one’s neighbour – for example, in a law court, or to avoid greater evil – but, normally, we are not allowed to speak evil of him, even when what we say is true.
A Catholic does his best to hide the faults of others, and will not listen to detraction. If detraction is wrong, calumny is still worse. And even quite good people do not seem to realize the responsibility they have for every single word they say about anyone else. Our neighbour’s honour and good name, his professional reputation and his personal character, should be as safe in our mouth as in our Lord’s. And it must be remembered that this is true even though we know that his private behaviour does not justify his public reputation. There are, however, circumstances in which we may have to give someone a charitable warning. But all tale-bearing and mischief-making, all imprudent revelations of another’s secret, all sowing of discord or exciting of suspicion are quite wrong, and are altogether incompatible with a true life in Christ. Not only do we separate ourselves from Him in the doing of these injuries, but we widen the breach inasmuch as these injuries are done to Him. We make public the very sins of which He has taken the shame upon Himself.
The really spiritual man is known by the kindness of his speech and still more by the kindness of his silence. He is always ready to find pity and sympathy for everyone. ‘To understand all is to forgive all’, and no man who knows his own weakness and his complete dependence upon God’s grace in the avoiding of sin, can ever be harsh with the faults of his neighbour. Even as human beings we should have a ‘fellow-feeling’ for one another, but as Catholics and members of His Church, our mutual sympathy should be much deeper.