Clenched Fists and Wicked Words

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Lockdown and Lent

A number of people have got quite stroppy with me recently, saying that they are not giving anything up for Lent, they have suffered enough during lockdown, thank you very much, their aim will be just to get through each day. I cannot quibble with part of that. Some people have suffered hugely; but I would query the idea that Lent requires some form of self-imposed suffering. That would make God a monster, delighting in the pain of his children; and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying God is not like that. Lent is about becoming closer to the Lord, becoming more free, more joyful. Christian tradition has always valued prayer, fasting and almsgiving as means to that end, but they are not ends in themselves, nor should they be interpreted narrowly. An illustration may make this clearer.

Clenched Fists and Wicked Words

Today’s first Mass reading, Isaiah 58.9–14, with its references to clenched fists, wicked words and sharing with others, is an excellent way of examining our conscience. What is more useless than a clenched fist, which can neither give nor receive? What is more pointless than a wicked word, which injures both speaker and hearer? Even if we have nothing material to share with others, we can rein in the others and share as much by not doing as by doing. There are days when my illness makes me think I’m incapable of anything more than just existing, can’t be ‘nice’ to others or contribute in any meaningful sense to the common good. That’s when the real work of conversion begins, when we realise that what we value may be reinforcing an idea we have of ourselves that is actually hindering us on our way to God, making it all about us again, not him.

A Different Approach

So, don’t worry about giving up wine or chocolate or saying an extra decade of the rosary or whatever you decided to do for Lent. Take control of your thoughts first. Cultivate kindness and generosity of mind: it will lead to action. Watch your speech: restrain that angry word, pause before you tap out your opinion on social media, make friends with those who think differently from you. Be honest with yourself and trust God for the rest. To be fair, I haven’t seen this working in myself yet, but I have seen it in others, so there is hope for us all.


8 thoughts on “Clenched Fists and Wicked Words”

  1. I have been thinking of Lent in terms of New Years resolutions we may have made, and Lent is a chance to catch up, to review how we have complied with the resolution we made on New Years Day, and see if we have really observed that resolution, resolutely.

    Alternatively, have we lived up to that NY resolution or have we abandoned it as just over ambitious or more likely, forgotten what we actually promised to ourselves and to God?

    So, I resolved in January that I would be more reflective and mindful, and hopefully more creative. I have in general kept to the first two, but the creative part seems to have passed me by, albeit producing a monthly parish magazine, requires an element of creativity in ideas for new articles, focus or just to research items that reflect the Christian Ethos that the magazine attributes to itself. That bit seems to be working, but the creativity I lack is encouraging others to participate or to submit articles of interest for our readers.

    It’s not that people are not interested, since going on line and free, we had an upsurge or doubling of readership, but people seem to have so much else going on, that they can’t find the time to share their stories of Lockdown, how it has affected them for better or for worse, and what if any effect it has had on their faith.

    They have had enough editorials from myself and from the Vicar, but a fresh voice now and again, particularly from the young people in our parish, would be so informative for this elderly editor, whose grandchildren are now adults and leading their own lives, and Church being closed for public worship, doesn’t bump into you, opinionated, vocal you people to get some of their views.

    So, perhaps I need to do something new, give up not being creative and seek ways to better engage all generations to bring them closer, and then mug them for contributions – Good Idea? Probably not. Perhaps I need to go to the private room that Jesus encourages us to find and to pray for more inspiration for myself and for others to empower and enable people to offer to participate, without arm twisting. That seems a sounder plan.

    So, that is the Lent part of my New Years Resolution, all I need to do now is to live up to it. Here we go……

  2. How very sensible. I remember with revulsion the mission priest who gave a retreat when we were in sixth form. His message at the beginning of Lent was ‘you must mortify the flesh girls’ and told us horrible stories about the nun who wore a belt that cut into her flesh and the saint that wore a hair shirt that crawled with lice. And all those who whipped themselves with a scourge. Where did all that come from? It’s a theme that runs through a lot of Catholic culture. If only we had all had you there to talk some sense.

    • Not a healthy culture, especially for women! Catholic culture is predominately male, so I’m not surprised at where those ideas came from. Unfortunately they still exist in certain dark corners of society.

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