The ninth degree of humility is, that a monk restrain his tongue from speaking and, maintaining silence, speak not until questioned, for the Scripture teaches: “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin,” and: “The man full of tongue shall not endure on the earth.”
Today’s reading hearkens back to Chapter VI. As written previously, even good conversation can quickly degenerate. Chapter VII is, in a sense, a program for our own interior Passion, of uniting ourselves spiritually with Our Lord’s own kenosis, His own self-emptying. If this interpretation is correct, that St. Benedict is putting forth a program for our own Passion in this chapter, then one can surmise that our Holy Father is thinking in this step of Our Lord’s silence before the Sanhedrin, only speaking when spoken to, and even this when absolutely necessary.
Talking much can be a form of self-love, of calling attention to one’s self, of pride, and I think that is what our Holy Father St. Benedict is getting at in this degree of humility. How many times in conversations do we not try to parade ourselves, puffing ourselves up, trying to be more than we really are? We love to get the last word in in an argument or a debate (“that’ll teach you to mess with me!”); we love to speak about all the wonderful things we’ve accomplished (“I’m so productive”; “I’ve just made my company so much money”; “I can juggle a job and family life”; “just look at my bank account”); our amazing holidays (“bet you wish you could go there”); put our encyclopedic knowledge on display (“don’t you wish you were as smart and as well read as me?”); make a witty remark (“I’m so smart and funny”). And this need not be the case only in worldly things; one can even fall into this in spiritual conversations as well! I think it needless to say that this step can be applied to social media as well. We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… My voice will be heard, whether you want to hear it or not! I will give my unsolicited opinion on every matter that tickles my fancy, and will give you a list of reasons why I am right and you are wrong (and will lambaste you if necessary).
It’s all about me, myself, and I. I have succumbed to pride. I make an idol of myself and expect others to burn the incense of approval at my feet.
One who cannot stop talking is necessarily one who cannot not listen, either to others or to God. Is it forcing the parable to see this spirit of talkativeness in the Pharisee who enumerates before God his apparent qualities? He goes on and on about how holy he is, uninterested in what the Lord may have to say to him. He has gone up to the Temple to worship not God, but himself. The parable tells us that he “prayed thus with himself“.
Today’s feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminded me that we have as an example of this step the Blessed Mother. The Creature with the most reasons for boasting, for not keeping silent, is the one who, though present throughout the Gospels, is hardly ever heard. She, who was born without the stain of sin, who is “full of grace”, who during her earthly life may have had the greatest spiritual insights, the loftiest thoughts, remained silent, pondering things in her Immaculate Heart. She did not speak until God questioned her via St. Garbiel. When she answered, it was with few words and in a spirit of humility. Let us ask of Our Most Holy Mother and Queen to help obtain for us this gift of humility of the tongue.
Am I restraining my tongue in conversations? Am I dissipating myself, forgetting to keep the Lord before my eyes, with my vain conversations? Am I giving my opinion when it is not called for, either at work or in other circumstances? Am I leading others into pointless conversations as well? Do I know how to listen?