In an old comic book, Dennis the Menace’s mother was teaching him to speak properly. She admonished him: watch your grammar! And Dennis innocently said: How can I? Grandma doesn’t live here with us?

The readings today point out to us the vital link between faith and human speech. The first reading from Sirach reminds us to discern a person’s character by the way he speaks. What comes out of his mouth disclose the inmost thoughts. In the gospel the Lord Jesus instructs us that goodness in the heart produces good; evil produces evil. And through this we shall know a person once her mouth.

Today these readings are very relevant. There are many contemporary ways of speaking that hurt, disappoint and destroy people. These types of speaking are all around us in the physical space we live and more pointedly in the virtual space we inhabit through technology and social media.

There is hate speech: This happens when people speak to express uncontrolled anger, to antagonize another, to sow divide people and to lead others to do harm. Hate speech has resulted in genocide, in the Holocaust and in random killings of those who are demonized by society like street urchins, drug addicts, and political opponents.

Then there is shame speech: In this time of high sensitivity to the rights of dignity of every person, there are still those who degrade others because they look and sound different from them. There are people who love to gossip about other people’s business or who love to defame the people they envy. Shame speech has caused many to suffer depression and contemplate suicide. It has produced many victims of bullying in schools and communities.

We also have deceptive speech: This is the enemy of the truth. We live in an age where fake news comes from within the walls of government offices, newsrooms, and hidden troll centers. While before, lying used to be personal, today deception has taken in an institutional face and official protection. How many are deceived by the free-for-all, unverified and unreguated social media today.

As Christians, how do we respond to all these? How do we tame the tongue? How do we train our tongue to speak as Jesus did?

First let us use charitable language: Love must not be soft and fearful. We need to correct one another if we must. We must not shy away from our responsibility to lead others to the right path. We can do this with the proper motivation of concern and compassion and the proper way of gentleness and firmness.

Second, as followers of Jesus, we must imitate his inspiring language: No, this is not just about spreading good vibes; it is not just about promoting positivity. Positive thinking is good but it tends to make us pretend that everything will be all right, easy and pain-free. Jesus inspired us not by positivity but by faith. Our words must help others confront their situations, seek God’s will, and carry their redeeming cross if there is one. Inspiring speech teaches people to trust not in their mindset but in the God who is our loving Father.

Lastly, we must prefer truthful language: We have been made to think that lies are harmless; that a little white lie cannot erode a relationship. But the truth is a component of love, and though sometimes what is true can hurt us emotionally, in the end, it has the power to free us and open us up to love, respect and forgiveness.

This week, let us ask ourselves what type of speech we have grown accustomed to in our lives? May we speak as Christians who not only listen to the Word but also proclaims the Word in every word we say.