Discretion Part II

In the previous article on indiscretion, we learnt some telltale symptoms of indiscretion. In the face of the obstacles caused by social media and other platforms that dispose us to ‘oversharing’, the practice of prudence can serve as a kind of antidote. The Church teaches that “prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1806). Hence, a discreet person has the prudence to do only what is appropriate to do, and to say only what is appropriate to say, at the right time and in the right circumstances.

What are some ways we can grow in the virtue of prudence? 

1. Pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of prudence, so you can form wise judgements, and receive the discretion to speak and act tactfully. It is important to remember that without God’s grace, we cannot acquire virtues on a supernatural level. Hence, we should always ask for His grace even while we put in the effort we need on our part. In particular, you can invoke the Holy Spirit through this beautiful prayer of St Ferdinand of Castile: O Holy Spirit, love of the Father and the Son, inspire me always in what I should think; what I should say, and how I should say it; what I should keep silent about, and how I should act; what I should do for the glory of God, the good of souls and my own sanctification. Oh Holy Spirit, give me keenness of understanding, capacity of retention, method and capability to learn; subtlety in interpretation, and grace and efficacy in speech. Give me wisdom to begin, direction to progress, and perfection to complete. Amen.

2. Examine the intentions behind your actions, words and thoughts. If you find that the questions you ask and the way you look at others are driven by curiosity; the comments you make are to boast about the fact that you know certain pieces of information; and your actions are done to enjoy some physical comfort or pleasure, then ask our Lady to purify your intentions and show you how to act in a way that gives God glory. It may help to pray: Zip my lips if that question or comment doesn’t get me to Heaven, Mama Mary!

3. Try to pay attention to the reactions of others to understand if your actions are causing unnecessary annoyance. This has to be clearly distinguished from seeking human approval which could cause us to be afraid to speak the truth because it may cause offence to others. Rather, the intention here is to see if we can help put others at ease and avoid overstepping boundaries, which can often occur without our even noticing. For instance: if someone begins a very personal conversation and does not explicitly want you to be there, try to take your leave (unnoticed, or at least, in a natural manner). If someone opens up their phone to show you some pictures, ask for permission and check where you can ‘scroll’ to. If you find yourself staring at something or someone out of curiosity, well, look elsewhere and “set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2). 

4. Meditate on the example of our Lady, the perfect Teacher and Model of discretion: meditate on how She would have behaved around Her neighbours (how does She react when someone offers a juicy tidbit of gossip?); at home, with St Joseph and Jesus (how does She ask about the events of their day?), during the Passion (how does she respond to the blasphemies of the Pharisees and the stares of the crowd?). How does She manage to intercede for the wedding couple’s needs at Cana without them ever becoming aware of their shortage of wine? Mama Mary, show me how to conduct myself in a way that gives glory to God. Help me to say what you would say and do what you would do, just how you would say and do it. Let my words be a healing balm for others and not a provocation to annoyance, and let my actions bring about peace and not offence.

5. DON’T GIVE UP! “The moral virtues are acquired by human effort.” (Catechism #1804) There is no doubt that if you’re making the effort to grow in discretion, and you ask humbly for God’s help, that He will grant you all the graces necessary to become just like our Lady. Don’t let the failures discourage you, but instead, let them reveal the goodness of God’s mercy to you!

Let us make an extra effort to acquire the elegant virtue of discretion, and in doing so, our Lady and our Lord will also teach us to purify our hearts and thoughts so that we may see Them face to face - and then surely, we will discover that all our little efforts have been more than worth it.

“Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips; let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.” (Psalm 141:3-4)

- By Winnie