Give up gossip for Lent — and for life

When I joined the seminary back in 2007, and rejoined in 2009, the community came together each morning and evening to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. After two psalms and a canticle are prayed, a brief reading from sacred Scripture is proclaimed. On the Friday of the first week of the psalter the reading comes from Ephesians 4:29:

Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.

Those words spoke to me then and still speak to me now every time when I read them, even though I fail to live them fairly often.

Who is the last person you gossiped about? The last person you said something unkind or uncharitable about to a family member, friend, or co-worker? How do you use your words? To build someone or to tear someone down? Even if what we say is true, it would be considered detraction. And if, what we say is false, then we are guilty of calumny. Gossip, detraction, and calumny should be brought to the confessional.

There is a story of one of the saints, attributed to St. Francis de Sales, who told a woman guilty of gossip to go to the top of the hill, rip open a feather pillow, and then to come back to him for further counsel. Once she accomplished the task, she went back to the saintly priest, who then instructed her to go and find every feather. When we talk about someone with other people, we never know how far the story will go and who they will tell. Our words can hurt and damage a person’s reputation and healing and restoration afterward become difficult.

Gossip, detraction, and calumny should be brought to the confessional.

In our social media driven age, we easily jump to conclusions from a viral video and begin to share our hot takes about it. Later we find out that we only saw half of the video. When news breaks about someone, such as a celebrity’s death, we immediately jump to conclusions and begin offering thoughts online, without having all the facts, only to find out how we were wrong.

Maybe this Lent would be a good opportunity for us to give up gossip, and not just for the holy season, but for the rest of our lives. Resolve now and going forward to only say the good things people need to hear, things that will help our family and friends.

Changes in our lives are difficult and it’s probable we will slip up. But resolve again to reject gossip. Here are a few tips I have found helpful when rooting out this vice:

  1. Always assume the best. We are quick to jump to conclusions only to be embarrassed when we find out we were wrong. Assume the best about a person or situation until proven otherwise.
  2. Think before you speak. Submit your comment to the following criteria: Is it true? Do I need to share this information? Will it cause people to think poorly of someone else? Is it better left unsaid?
  3. Examine your motivation. Why do I want to share this information? Is it because it will lift me up and put someone else down? Will I somehow become favored over the person I’m talking about?
  4. Think about all the conversations you had. Identify if you said anything you regret sharing about other people. If there is someone, offer a prayer for them. Ask God to help them in whatever struggles they are facing. Ask God to heal any hurt or damage you may have caused to that person’s name or reputation. It might be good to say an Act of Contrition and then ask God’s help to say only what he wants you to say the next day. This is a great spiritual exercise for the end of the day.
  5. Do something about it. The next time someone in your family, workplace, social circle, or parish begins to talk badly about someone — act. Stop the conversation. Walk away. (Someone did that to me once and it spoke volumes.) You can also interject a positive comment about the person. Resolve with your friends to have more positive conversation and ask them to hold each other accountable.

Always assume the best.

The season of Lent is an opportunity for spiritual growth, especially in virtue. Instead of giving up chocolate or coffee this Lent, do something that will be beneficial for everybody — give up gossip! And make sure it’s not only for Lent, but for the rest of your life.

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