Fasting With the Tongue this Lent

One of the most powerful weapons that we have at our disposal is between the two layers of our teeth—namely, our tongue.  The words that issue from our mouth have an incredible power for good or for evil.

Pope Francis constantly is reminding us of the importance of vigilance over our whole being; and this includes our tongue and the words that come forth. Time and time again Pope Francis exhorts us to avoid gossip, back-biting, and speech that damages others.

Saint James reminds us: “We should be slow to speak and quick to listen.” In James chapter three—a must to read with respect to the control of our tongue—Saint James in a clear and challenging fashion outlines the dangers of the tongue and the damage that this small instrument can do.  Man can tame all animals, but not the tongue. It is small, but like a little spark that can start a huge fire, so the tongue being small can do irreparable damage.  In Southern California, there is always the danger of a fire that can cut across thousands of acres of land, devastate homes, towns, villages and kill people. Often this huge fire started with a match stick, a cigarette butt or some insignificant thing that started the fire.

Jesus, who is the Logos—the Word of God made flesh—likewise warns us of the importance of the tongue, speech, and a reminder for the Day of Judgment! The Lord Himself says:  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Once again, with respect to our Final Judgment Jesus warns us: “Every word that comes out of our heart will be judged.” He also encourages us not to waste words, but to be quick and to the point when it is possible: “Let your language, be “yes” and “yes” or “no” and “no”; the rest comes from the evil one!

Lent: The Season of Conversion

The Season of Lent is a time for conversion of life; this also includes conversion of the way we speak.  The three traditional ways to attain to true conversion of heart and life are: 1) prayer, 2) almsgiving, 3) Fasting.

True, one can and should fast from food, especially on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Nonetheless, this is not exhaustive! Fasting can be done in many other ways.  For example, fasting of the eyes from harmful TV programs, fasting from laziness at work, fasting from being overly critical and judgmental in our hearts.

Still there is another form of fasting: fasting of the tongue, fasting in speech, fasting from offending others with our words. Why not undertake this on your Lenten journey as you head to the Cross on Good Friday, with your hearts joyfully awaiting the Risen Lord Jesus the day of the Resurrection?

Indeed this practice could result in promoting harmony in your home with your family members, peace in your relations at work, and charity towards all people you meet!

The following are two short but powerful supports to help us carry out successfully a Program of fasting in our speech.

1. Pentecost Experience and Speech. The Apostles during the Public life of Jesus made many mistakes in word and deed. However, they experienced one transforming event—it was Pentecost.  The twelve Apostles spent nine days and nine nights in prayer with the Blessed Virgin Mary and boom!!! There was an explosion of grace.

The Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire. Emphasize the word tongues!  Then they were endowed with the ability—with their own tongues—to preach the Word of God powerfully and convert countless souls.  The message and its meaning?  Simple!  If our speech is to be edifying and sanctifying, then we must be purified, converted and sanctified by the fire of the Holy Spirit. All of us must have and experience  a daily Pentecost experience; we all must invoke the Holy Spirit on a daily basis so that He will guide our minds, our hearts and the words that usher forth from our mouths! “Come Holy Spirit, come, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

2. The Golden Rule and Speech Every person on earth can understand the Golden Rule given to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “Do to others what you would like them to do to you.” Everybody responds positively towards a kind word, friendly smile, and charitable gesture.  Why not apply the Golden Rule of Jesus to how we will speak to others. A bitter or sarcastic word can leave irreparable wounds in the soul. On the contrary, a kind word motivated by a pure and loving heart can lift somebody out of the pits of desolation.

Saint Bernard, in one of his edifying homilies, reminds us of three rules to apply to our speech:

  • 1) Speak to accuse ourselves of our own failures (great way to do this is a good confession)
  • 2) Speak to praise God. Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises in the meditation Principle and Foundation reminds us as to why we are here on earth: “To praise God, reverence God, serve God and then to save our souls…”(Spiritual Exercises text # 23)
  • 3) Finally, St. Bernard asserts that we should speak so as to edify our neighbor.

The word “edify” technically means “To build up”.  Our words should serve to build up our neighbor. Today the world has been inundated by a Tsunami of gossip, criticism, negativism, sarcasm and irony—not to mention lies and slander. We must counteract negative and poisonous speech by using our tongue to lift others closer to God who is in heaven. We should never forget that God’s ear is keenly attentive to every word, letter, syllable that issues forth from our mouth.

The Word of God reminds us that he who does not control his speech is not on the highway to holiness. However, the man who controls his tongue is being led by the Holy Spirit and is following the pathway to heaven—the narrow path that Jesus taught us.

In conclusion, let us turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who spoke only seven times in the Gospels that we would learn the art of fasting in many ways. However, especially in the Holy Season of Lent, let us fast from all words that could offend others and God who is offended when we offend others with our speech. Let us learn to praise God, with Mary, with our words and with our lives: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Let us praise God, with Our Lady, in time and forever in heaven!

image: De Visu / Shutterstock.com

Fr. Ed Broom, OMV

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Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of From Humdrum to Holy, which offers more words of wisdom for how to become a saint today. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

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  • Jennifer Hartline

    Thank you, Fr. Ed.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    Would you say that a 4th acceptable use of our speech is to simply but courageously defend what is true? And to speak for those without a voice? Especially in our time when lies and sophistries are so prevalent and easily spread. The challenge is to do so without tearing people down or being unjust. Yes?

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