The other day I began watching a DVD from the library, and it was so laced with profanity that I stopped it. Some people must not be aware of—or have forgotten—the second commandment: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord Your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7) That second part is a pretty strong warning. Why is misusing God’s name so terrible that it is listed among the big ten? It hinges on the fact that God is the almighty, all-holy One who is worthy of awe and reverence. A name is equivalent to a person and something precious to us. Abusing a person’s name is a major insult. I remember my anger and hurt in the third grade when a mean little boy called me Kathleen Garbage (instead of Glavich). I wonder how angry God gets when his holy name is thrown around flippantly or used as an expletive to show surprise or anger.
The Jewish people normally refrain from pronouncing God’s name, and Orthodox Jews don’t dare to write that name but substitute G-d. But many Christians think nothing of exclaiming “Jesus Christ” outside of prayer. Or they say, or even text an abbreviation for “O my God” instead of “Wow.” It’s become a habit, a bad habit that is contagious. Profanity is so pervasive in our culture that I fear that someday when I am sedated for surgery I will let loose some shocking words!
In the Our Father we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name by our speech and actions. When some children were asked what love was, one child responded, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Those who truly love God, treat his name carefully. Imagine how tenderly God would pronounce your name. It’s said that hearing our name is the sweetest sound. (Someone suggested calling store clerks, agents, and other service people by their names as a sign of respect.)
The name of Jesus is powerful. Apostles healed in his name. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) St. Peter declared, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). Our Mass prayers conclude, “We ask this in the name of Jesus.”
For good reason in the Roman Missal of 2002 the Church restored the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated on January 3. We need another St. Bernardino of Siena, the Franciscan who promoted the Holy Name of Jesus in the fifteenth century.
The Holy Name Society was begun in an attempt to promote reverence for the name of God. There is a Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, and one of our most majestic hymns is “Holy God, We Praise Your Name,” what someone called the Catholic national anthem. Maybe each time we hear someone “take the name of God in vain,” we can say in our heart, “Blessed be God.” In Scripture we read, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). The least we can do is bow our heads at the name of Jesus or mentally pray, “Praised be the name of Jesus.” We can take a cue from our Muslim brothers and sisters who after pronouncing the name of Mohammad immediately add, “Peace be upon him.”
When our Sister Karla was angry, she would simply say, “Bad words. Bad words.” How do you express anger or surprise?