The Power of Words
I’ve always made an attempt to carefully measure my words, especially if I’m angry or in a heated discussion with someone. I learned years ago that while apologies may be offered and accepted for words spoken in the heat of the moment, the hurt caused by those words may last for years, or even for a lifetime.
This past week I learned yet another “life-lesson” regarding the power of words. In this particular instance it was written words, rather than spoken ones, that offended a handful of people that I’m aware of, and that number may be more.
Unfortunately, I am the one responsible for writing those words, and even more regrettable is the fact that they appeared on this site. Rather than explaining this situation to you, I’ve decided to share a letter that I submitted to One Voice, a weekly Catholic Newspaper printed here in Birmingham.
October 21, 2010
My name is Sam Maniscalco. I’m a life-long resident of Birmingham. I was baptized at St.Paul’s Church, attended St. Paul’s Elementary School, and graduated from John Carroll Catholic High School in 1970.
I feel that I owe the Catholic community here in Birmingham an apology, and an explanation.
A few weeks ago, an article that I had written, A God of Fear, appeared in a local publication here in Birmingham. It has come to my attention that many Catholics took exception to the article, and that some were quite offended.
First, and foremost, I’d like to offer a humble and heartfelt apology to anyone that may have been slighted by the article. I can assure you that it was never my intention to debase the Catholic Church in any way, shape, or form. It is, after all, the Catholic Church that gave me the teachings, values, and morals that became the very foundation of my faith. That being said, I pray that you’ll accept my apology.
For those of you that didn’t have the opportunity to read A God of Fear, I’ll tell you that it centered on what I learned about God, faith, and the church when I was a child. I believe that the real controversy arose from what I had to say about Confession. I’ll pick up in the middle of the article…
Sadly, when it came to God, I felt the same way.
I was told that I had to go to confession when I was five years old; to tell God that I was sorry for what I’d done wrong. I HAD to go. No options. Besides, if I didn’t, God would know that I wasn’t sorry for what I’d done wrong. I’d better get in there and confess my sins. Or I’d never go to heaven.
At the tender age of five, what could I have done that was so wrong that God wouldn’t let me go to heaven? Nothing. But at five, I didn’t know that.
All too quickly forgotten was the promise of Jesus loves me yes I know, for the Bible tells me so. It had been replaced by “If you don’t tell God that you’re sorry, you can’t go to heaven.” Well, if the elevator ain’t going up, it must be going down!
The Fear of God seed had been planted.
While I regret that many took offense to what I had written, I’m having a hard time regretting that I shared my thoughts with people. You see, be it right or wrong, I simply shared what had been on my heart for all those years. The tragedy was not in what had been taught to me, or how it had been taught, but in the way that I processed what I had been taught. Sadly, I don’t believe that I’m alone in the way that I feel.
The fear of God that I was referring to isn’t exclusive to the Catholic Church. I’ve spoken with people, from every Christian denomination and from all walks of life, who are terrified of God. They’re so guilt-ridden from their sins of the past that many have no relationship with God at all, yet they feel that being estranged from God is easier than facing Him to ask for forgiveness. Consequently, they never get to know Him. How sad.
It was that misplaced fear, along with the tragedy of not having known the joy of a true and full relationship with God for the first fifty-four years of my life that was the inspiration for the article.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, people need God in their lives. The moral fabric of our society is torn, financial woes are at an all time high, and our world seems to be crumbling around us. Many feel that the Book of Revelation is beginning to unfold as we speak. Who is to say that they’re right? Conversely, who is to say that they’re wrong?
Here’s the bottom line.
We should be God fearing. There are certainly consequences for our actions. This is evidenced in Scripture more times than I could recall. We should not, however, be afraid of God, at least not when it comes to repenting for what we’ve done. Our God is a God of love, and He is a God of forgiveness. We shouldn’t be afraid to stand before God, asking forgiveness for what we may have done years, or months, or even days ago. God knows what we’ve done. And He knows what’s in our hearts. Like a loving parent, all that He’s waiting for is for us to say that we’re sorry. He doesn’t want us to be curled up in some corner, alone, afraid, and away from Him.
Again, I’m truly sorry for anyone that I may have offended. It was certainly not my intention. I just want people to know the joy of being with God that waits for all of us when we can get past our fears. It has been said that It’s not the just destination, but the journey itself. As it pertains to this statement, there are so many of us who are missing the unbelievable journey that we get to take here on earth when God is on that path with us.
May God bless you and yours,
What I learned this week is that I must always measure my words. Not just when I’m angry, or in a heated discussion. Not when I step into a room full of gossip, or when I’m at a party. Not when I’m frustrated, or when I’m feeling a little blue.
This week I realized that I must carefully measure my words, even in expressing my exuberance in finding forgiveness, freedom from shame and guilt, and a new relationship with God.
The irony in all of this is that I don’t feel as though I was saying anything against the Catholic Church as much as I was criticizing my own perceptions of what I’d learned about God as a child. It was my failure to choose the right words to express my thoughts that led to any misunderstandings.
Did I learn a lesson from all of this? You bet. Will it happen again? Quite honestly, as much as I’d like to say that it won’t, I have to realize that much of what I share on these pages are based on my feelings, and my feelings may not always be the same as yours.
I’ll close today with two passages from scripture.
A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook. Proverbs 18:4
A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul. Proverbs 18:7
There is so much power in our selection of words. Because I chose the wrong ones to convey my thoughts, rather than being seen as a humble servant attempting to offer words of wisdom, in the eyes of many I was the fool.
Choose your words wisely!
See you next week.