I’M SURE you have seen the 1964 musical film My Fair Lady at least once. The movie depicts a poor Cockney flower-seller named Eliza who takes speech lessons from a phonetics professor so that she may pass as a lady in the high society of Edwardian London. After a few weeks of daily hard lessons, Eliza becomes so fed up with her speech teacher that she exclaims (or better sings), “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words.”

Let’s be honest, how many times have we joined Eliza’s complaint! We have grown tired of the misleading advertising that pushes us to buy products with words that are definitely far too good to be true. We have grown weary of the political wizards who have deceived us with lovely words like safety-net, peace-keepers and freedom of choice in birth to describe ugly realities. And, of course, we all have been hurt by words, especially those that promised, “I will never leave you,” “I will always love you,” “I would never lie to you.”

It is so easy to become sick of words that we might even come to the conclusion that they don’t really matter, and that deeds and not words are what counts the most.

But is it all that simple? Can we so easily lose our trust in words? I have a feeling that, despite the fact that we have all been hurt by bad words, we are all, in some way, waiting to hear some good words that would lift our hearts. That is why, during Holy Mass, before the Eucharist, we listen to the Word of the Lord, the only word that can really regenerate us and strengthen our faith.

Last January, in his homily for the Sunday of the Word of God, Pope Francis said, “Prior to every word of ours about God, there is his word to us, his Word who continues to tell us, ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you. I am at your side and I will always be there.’” Then the Pope went on urging people “not ignore God’s word. It is a love letter, written to us by the One who knows us best.”

This is more evident than ever in a famous Gospel passage: the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus, from his vantage point on top of a hill, looks at all the people gathered to listen to him. Many of them are poor and hungry, some are homeless, others are sick, marginalized, excluded… Jesus looks at them and addresses them with a word nobody had ever called them before: Blessed (truly happy). And then he adds, “Despite what people call you, despite what you might even be tempted to call yourself, listen to me. I call you blessed because you belong to God’s kingdom.”

I am sure that of all the wonderful words that Jesus spoke during his life on earth, the one that people cherished most was when he called them blessed. That word sparked a revolution of spirit and changed the world; that one word of blessing defied empires and defined a new people.

There is an old children’s rhyme which is reported to have first appeared in the Christian Recorder in 1862. The rhyme was used as a defense against name-calling and verbal bullying, and says, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

In truth I think the rhyme is quite wrong: words do hurt. And while they may not break our bones, they break our spirits: “You are a loser”; “I wish you were never born”; “Go back to Africa!”; “Get out of my face, fairy!”

These expressions are not worthy of a disciple of Jesus. We Christians really could change the world again if, among other things, we could learn to call others, especially those most despised, with that wonderful word used by Jesus: blessed.

Updated on May 01 2021