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Getting Our Words’ Worth

November 21, 2021 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

What are words worth? Not very much if we consider that it takes a thousand of them to equal one picture. Even less if we consider the superhighway of information that is deleted as soon as it is delivered. And yet, “I love you,” “everything is going to be fine,” “thank you,” “amen,” and “alleluia,” can be worth far more when spoken on a personal level than any picture or text message. On a monetary plane, their value fluctuates wildly.
I once received a letter from a publisher informing me that the value of my words would double from five cents to ten. Unfortunately, before I could enjoy this whopping pay hike, the publisher went out of business. Harold Robbins, on the other hand, was getting $40 per word for writing such things as The Carpetbaggers. He was making a fortune just from his repetition of the articles “a,” “an,” and “the.” Robbins penned 25 novels that sold over 750 million copies in 32 languages.
Some have argued, however, that his lifetime achievement was, ironically, to cheapen the word.
Our most taciturn president was undoubtedly Calvin Coolidge. America’s 30th chief executive once stated: “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.” A young newspaperwoman, sitting next to him at a banquet, told him that she had a bet with her editor that she could get more than two words out of him over the course of the evening. His laconic response was, “You lose.” Coolidge was stingy with words, but after his tenure as president, he wrote a column for the New York Herald Tribune, which, according to rumor, paid him $2 per word. Apparently, he had been saving his words until he got his words’ worth.
Words can help, heal, humble, harm, hurt, hinder, or humiliate. “I am more penitent for my false words,” confessed Malcolm Muggeridge, “than for false deeds.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who knew a great deal about the misuse of words, treasured each one whose primary purpose was to be a conveyer of truth. Studying the words in his Russian dictionary, he saw them “as if they were precious stones, each so precious that I would not exchange one for another.”
For St. Teresa of Kolkata, “Words that do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.”
“Bright is the ring of words,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, “when the right man rings them.”
We gain insight into the highest worth of the word in the Gospel of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Words explain our thoughts to others. God, desiring to express His Mind to us, presents Himself as the Word that reveals the Mind of the Father. That Word is eternal and, unlike all things, shall not pass away.
In addition, “The Word was made flesh.” In these five words, we discover a synthesis of Greek philosophy, Jewish thought, and Christian Revelation. According to Hellenistic thinking, logos meant divine utterance, emanation, mediation. The Old Testament referred to the Word of God as God’s manifestation, the revelation of Himself, either in creation, in deeds of power and of grace, or in prophecy.
In the New Testament, Christ is the Word of God made flesh — the Incarnation — existing from all eternity as coexisting with the Father and the source of grace and truth. According to St. John, therefore, the Word is understood as an utterance originating from the Father which so perfectly mirrors and manifests God that it is God, but in the Person of Jesus Christ the Redeemer.
St. Thomas Aquinas explains, in his Summa Contra Gentiles IV, c. 54, that it is most suitable for God to assume human nature so as to make it easier for human beings to seek their happiness with God: “Hence after the Incarnation of Christ, men began the more to aspire after heavenly beatitude; as He Himself says: ‘I am come that they may have life and may have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10).”
C.S. Lewis is a great respecter of words, all the more so because of his Christian belief. In The Weight of Glory he expresses our inescapable desire for beatitude in a way that is both theologically sound and poetically moving:
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.”
We get our words’ worth when we relate them to the Divine Word. As we read in Matt. 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In an age when words are proliferating through the mass and social media at electronic speed and accompanied by little thought, it is a sober exercise to reconsider the beauty and meaning of words, and how, in order to achieve their ultimate worth, they are to be related to the Word that will last forever.
“All my words for the Word” should be the working motto for all Catholic writers.

  • + + (Dr. Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His recent works, How to Remain Sane in a World that Is Going Mad; Poetry that Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart; How to Flourish in a Fallen World, and In Praise of Life are available through Amazon.com. His most recent book is Footprints on the Sands of Time: Personal Reflections on Life and Death. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum. He is the 2015 Catholic Civil Rights League recipient of the prestigious Exner Award.)
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