The power of words

‘Doesn’t it show that a simple little conversation can change things? Its huge. The power of words is a lot better than the power of the gun. I’m chuffed.’

The speaker was Patrick Murphy, head of the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation, on learning that the Russian government had heeded his request that they move their naval exercises further out to sea as they were threatening their fish with all their explosions and rocket drill. ‘I’m shocked really, I didn’t think that little old us would have an impact on international diplomacy’, he said.

The prophet Isaiah had a vision of a seraph touching his lips with a live coal and purifying him so that he could announce the words of God to the people and we have been living off those words ever since. And in Luke’s gospel, we have an example of Jesus telling, not the Russian navy, but Peter to ‘put out into deep water for a catch of fish.’ Peter is astonished for he knows about fishing and fishing is done at night. But there was something in the power of Jesus’ words that moved him to obey, and we know what happened.

It is so easy to say nothing, to keep quiet. It is safer and keeps us out of trouble. But our readings today prompt us to reflect on those words of Qoheleth about ‘a time to keep silent and a time to speak’ (3:7). Many times we fail to speak when there is a real need to do so. The whole issue of abuse in the Church is a case in point. But the need is far wider. In families and communities, we see someone getting into trouble but we say nothing. We are afraid to speak because we might be blamed later on. Or we feel we might be breaking the family unity.

An America researcher, George Vaillant, is part of a team that has studied behaviour in a large sample of people over decades. One of his conclusions is that people who are happy in their eighties enjoyed good relationships in their fifties. This may not sound like a major discovery; maybe it is obvious. But his point is that happiness is based on sound relationships. And we can take this further and say, sound relationships grow when people speak honestly to each other and know when to ‘keep silent and when to speak.’

The key is that we are responsible for each other. If we take courage and speak when it is necessary, we not only contribute to another’s long term happiness but we achieve our own. When we lose our life we find it. We too can be ‘chuffed.’

6 February 2022    Sunday 5C   Is 6:1-8        1 Cor 15:1-11        Lk 5:1-11

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