Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion — Rachel Platten
“You can kill with a spear or a sneer,” Fr. Tom Hopko loved to say, quoting Dostoevsky. The power of words to make or break another’s world, to light a candle or curse the darkness, to bring hope or spread despair, to edify or destroy. The world was created in the beginning by words, will be judged in the end by words.
Jesus places ultimate value on words, each of which we will be called to account for in final Judgment:
I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter. — Matt. 12:36
There are a thousand homilies in that one line.
Of all the posts I have written, the one that received the most ‘hits’ (over 12,000) was my post, “Defusing the F-bomb,” which was a Christian critique of our vulgarity-saturated culture. I referred in that post to my own relationship to cussing. But I’d like to finish that story.
I grew up surrounded by vulgarity, and by the time I got to High School I had developed a sewer mouth that even made my ‘regular guy’ friends uncomfortable at times. When I experienced my faith conversion in February of 1987, I immediately knew, though I could not explain exactly why, that I had to stop swearing. Among my college friends and acquaintances, it was the most dramatic signal that I had changed. A change that frequently called down from them on me the best insult I felt I’d ever received, “Jesus freak.”
Over the years, I know many people think I am extreme on my no-cussing rule. This is why.
Over the next 25 years, I successfully held closed the flood gates of audible profanity that silently filled my mind day and night. For me this was a miracle of actual and prevenient grace. I had long before accepted that this constant mental effusion of foul language would be a permanent penance the rest of my life. I had begged God to take it away, but it would not be so. Though, as I said, I had reconciled myself with it, as much as one can.
Then I met an elderly priest who had been an exorcist for several decades. We met one afternoon to chat about something unrelated to exorcism or my own personal life. We had never met before, and he knew nothing about me. At the end of our very wonderful conversation, he said, “Do you mind if I pray for you?” I said enthusiastically, “No! Please do!” He took out his crucifix and placed it on my head, and prayed, “O Lord, your servant Tom has suffered under the burden of blasphemy for years and has been faithful in the fight. I ask you now to free him from the spirit of blasphemy, so he can carry out his mission to make known your Word to your people without hindrance.”
I was stunned, stupefied, speechless. How did he know? I had told him nothing of myself. At once, with absolute certitude, as soon as he finished his prayer I knew I had been freed from the inner storm of profanity. There was a total calm in my mind. This day, one month shy of 6 years later, I remain 100% free. Though I can call to mind curse words, they no longer present themselves with force. At all. My gratitude has never ever for a second ebbed.
Before I left, I said to him, “I have struggled for 25 years with overcoming profanity. I am astonished. I can hardly take it in. I don’t know what to say besides, thank you. And thanks be to God.” He said, “Tom, God freed you today. But He waited 25 years so this moment of victory would be yours and His. You had to suffer the war with Him to receive the palm of victory. No freebies in the Kingdom. He wants us to have a stake in salvation, to share in the battle. And remember, your healing was for others, more than it was for you. Remember that, okay? Now use your words well and bless this cursing world! Okay?”
“Okay.” Let me strike the match, O Lord.