When I sent my manuscript of poems for children to a publisher, I was told they would like to use only the one “Good Words” and make it into a book. Because I wanted all 59 poems published, I said, “No, thank you,” and sent the poems on to ACTA Publications, which published them as “The Heartbeat of Faith.” That first publisher obviously knew the value of teaching children polite words. Speaking good words is important not just for children but for adults. Here are some thoughts about them.
To most of us, “please” and “thank you,” come spontaneously, drilled into us by our parents. But thank you notes seem to be going out of fashion. In graduate school I wrote a paper on the origin of the word “thank.” It is derived from the word “think.” When we take time to write a thank you note, it sends a message that we are thinking of someone who has been kind to us. We acknowledge their gift. Did you ever receive a thank you note out of the blue? If so, you know how it warmed your heart. This Lent you might write such a note to someone: the teacher who was patient with you, the priest who gives good homilies, the neighbor who always brings in your garbage cans. Who could you “think” to thank this week?
Both “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” tend to stick in our throats. For us proud creatures, it is difficult to admit that we’ve made a mistake and hurt someone or ruined a project or failed to help someone. On the other hand, when we’ve been wounded, it takes a kind of super grace to be able to forgive and sincerely state it.
Mark Twain commented, “I could live two months on a good compliment.” Sometimes we don’t think to compliment a person. During the day thoughts cross our minds like “How good that suit looks on her,” or “He really wrote a good article,” but then we don’t verbalize them either aloud or in writing. Doing so would brighten a person’s day and be an act of love. To increase the value of a compliment, express it in the presence of other people!
Two commandments directly have to do with words. The second commandment tells us to honor God’s name. In other words, we are not to swear but to reverence the names God, Jesus, and Christ as we do the persons they stand for. Then there is the commandment that forbids us from bearing false witness. We are always to speak the truth—not falsehoods, half-truths, or exaggerations. We depend on one another not to lie. Lying destroys trust. Note how people react to lying officials nowadays.
Finally, positive words lift hearts. A grouch who has the habit of complaining and criticizing is not a welcome guest or friend because their words make others feel bad. Yes, life is marked by problems and challenges and people do have their faults, but to dwell on these negative facts is unhealthy psychologically and physically. Several times I’ve had my words and even my facial expressions misinterpreted. Bet you have too. Once when I was tending to a sick person in bed, she remarked that I was looking at her with disgust. The reality was that I was probably sicker than she was at that moment but didn’t want to let on! Sometimes it pays to give a person the benefit of a doubt. We might be jumping to a wrong conclusion. Religious leaders decided that Jesus was blaspheming when he spoke as though he were God. But he was God! It also helps to look for the blessing in a predicament and concentrate on it. We believe that God is good and causes good things to result from evil. Think of a time you were in trouble but then because of it, you encountered someone special. By doing these two things—allowing for a different interpretation of words and focusing on the bright side of events—we would not be so apt to judge or complain. We would be more likable!
I remember and treasure certain words that people have said to me, not just compliments but advice. When have words touched your heart?
Kevin Lowry, Our Sunday Visitor, 158 pp. $15.95
Lowry’s book has two parts. The first part tells the story of his unlikely conversion to the Catholic faith, thanks to God’s grace. The son of a Presbyterian minister, the author became a student at a Catholic university. There he wasted semesters drinking beer and skipping classes to the point that he was asked to leave. After working three years for Sony, he returned to the university and eventually got an MBA. Drawn to the Catholic Church, he began speaking to people about it and praying the rosary. He joined an RCIA program, and his wife accompanied him. When he was twenty-five, they both were baptized into the Church. They now have eight children.
The second part of the book contains discussions of seven stumbling blocks to becoming Catholic, including Mary, the Eucharist, and the Church’s imperfections. These are clear and convincing and, in my opinion, the most valuable section of the book. Directors of RCIA programs, RCIA candidates, people returning to the Church, and non-Catholics who would like to understand what Catholics believe will find this book helpful. Others will find it interesting.