Silence is a great means of acquiring the spirit of prayer, and of disposing the soul to converse continually with God. We rarely find a spiritual soul that speaks much. All souls of prayer are lovers of silence that is called the guardian of innocence, the shield against temptations, and the fountain of prayer. For by silence devotion is preserved, and in silence good thoughts spring up in the soul. St. Bernard says: "Silence and the absence of noise in a certain manner force the soul to think of God and of eternal goods." Hence, the saints fled to the mountains, to caves, and to deserts, in order to find this silence, and escape the tumults of the world, in which, as was said to Elias, God is not found. Theodosius the monk observed silence for thirty-five years. St. John the Silent, who gave up his bishopric and became a monk, observed silence for forty-seven years before his death; and all the saints, even they who were not solitaries, have been lovers of silence.
Oh, how great the blessings that silence brings to the soul! The prophet says that silence shall cultivate justice in the soul; for, on the one hand, it saves us from a multitude of sins by destroying the root of disputes, of detractions, of resentments, and of curiosity; and on the other, it makes us acquire many virtues. How well does one practise humility who when others speak listens with modesty and in silence! How well does one practise mortification by not yielding to inclination or desire to tell a certain anecdote, or to use a witty expression suggested by the conversation! How well does one practise meekness by remaining silent when unjustly censured or offended! Hence the same holy prophet said: In silence and in hope shall be your strength. Your strength shall be in silence and in hope; for by silence we shun the occasions of sin, and by hope we obtain that divine aid to lead a holy life.
But, on the other hand, immense evils flow from speaking too much. In the first place, as devotion is preserved by silence, so it is lost by a multitude of words. However recollected the soul may have been in prayer, if it afterwards indulges in long discourses it will find the mind as distracted and dissipated as if it had not made meditation. When the mouth of the burning furnace is open the heat soon evaporates. St. Dorotheus says: "Beware of too much speaking, for it banishes from the soul holy thoughts and recollection with God." In speaking about religious that cannot abstain from inquiring after worldly news, St. Joseph Calasanctius said: "The curious religious shows that he has forgotten himself." It is certain that he who speaks too much with men converses but little with God, for the Lord says: I will lead her (the soul) into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart. (Osee. 2, 14). If, then, the soul wishes that God speak to its heart, it must seek after solitude; but this solitude will never be found by those who do not love silence. How will the Lord ever condescend to speak to those, who, by seeking after the conversation of creatures, shows that the conversation of God is not sufficient to make them happy?
In speaking too much, as is often the case, we shall not fail to commit some fault. In the multitude of words there shall not want sin. (Prov. 10, 19). While they speak and prolong conversation without necessity, certain persons think that they are not guilty of any defect; but if they carefully examine themselves they will find some fault against modesty, of detraction, of curiosity, or at least of superfluous words. For idle words all men shall have to render an account. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall account for it in the day of judgement. (Matt. 12, 36). He, says Solomon, that keepeth his mouth keepeth his soul. (Prov. 13, 3). And St. James says that he who sins not with the tongue is a perfect man: If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. (James 3, 2). The virtue of silence consists not in being always silent, but in observing silence when there is no necessity for speaking. Hence Solomon says that there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. But St. Gregory of Nyssa remarks that the time for silence is put before the time for speaking, because, as the saint adds, by silence we learn to speak well.
Whenever you have to speak, be careful, in conformity with the advice of the Holy Ghost, Make a balance for thy words, to examine what you ought to say. Make a balance for your words that you may weigh them before you give expression to them. Hence St. Bernard says that "before your words come to the tongue let them pass twice under the file of examination," that you may suppress what you should not utter. The same was said by St. Francis de Sales in other words, namely, that to speak without sin every one should keep a lock on their lips, that in opening ones mouth to speak one might reflect well on what one wishes to say.
Before speaking you should consider:
1. Whether what you intend to say can injure charity, modesty, or exact observance.
2. Examine the motive that impels you to speak; for it sometimes happens that what a person says is good, but the intention is bad; the person speaks either to appear spiritual, or to acquire a character for talent.
3. Examine to whom you speak, whether to your Superiors, to companions, or to inferiors: whether in the presence of seculars, or of the postulants, who may be scandalized by what you say.
4. Examine the time at which you speak, whether at the time of silence or of repose.
5. The place in which you speak, whether in the choir, or in the sacristy, or in the corridors; at the door or in the parlor.
6. Be careful to speak with simplicity, avoiding all affection; with humility, abstaining from all words of pride or vainglory; with sweetness, never uttering a word that savors of impatience, or that tends to the discredit of a neighbour; with moderation, not by being the first to give your opinion on any question that may be proposed, particularly if you are younger than the others; with modesty, by not interrupting any, and also by abstaining from every word that savors of the world, from all improper gestures, and immoderate laughter, and by speaking in a low tone of voice. And should you as a Superior, ever be obliged to correct, take care not to reprimand in a loud voice for otherwise it will be perceived that you speak through impatience, and then the reprimand will be unprofitable.
(Adapted from: The True Spouse of Jesus Christ)