Hallowed Be His Name
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Jan. 1 we began a 10-week countdown to the beginning of Lent. Ten weeks? Ten Commandments? Yes. In preparation for Lent, together let's make an examination of conscience by means of this weekly series of reflections on each of the Ten Commandments. In this second entry, we reflect on why we should not take the name of the Lord, our God, in vain (Ex 20:7).
By Felix Carroll
We're a cursing culture. Always have been.
Even the father of our country, George Washington himself, famously had to beseech his troops to refrain from "the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing." The potty mouths!
Swearing to be insulting, swearing to be cool, swearing to express frustration, fear, or surprise, casts its root system deeply into the home, the playground, the blogosphere, movies, film, music, you name it. For many impressionable youngsters, swear words become the apple on the tree. Sadly but surely, those apples will be bitten into, swallowed, regurgitated, and thereby sown for future generations of wise apples.
Still, today, when it comes to profanity, acceptance has its limits. For instance, it's still taboo — still repugnant — to speak of our mothers irreverently, in cursing, contempt, or other forms of disrespect. Why? Maybe because she is present in our lives. At great pains, she gave us birth. She changed our diapers, clothed us, fed us, wept for us, and unconditionally loved us. Hallowed be her name!
So who can blame God for getting testy when His children take His name in vain? He is our Heavenly Father, after all. He, too, loves us without conditions. Hallowed be His name!
How Many Times Must We Be Told?
To modern ears, the second commandment might better be worded to say, "Don't speak as if the Lord, your God, weren't in the same room with you."
The eminent arbiter of cultural mores, Emily Post, would certainly have denounced such comportment simply on the grounds of it being bad manners. But God saw it fit to etch a seemingly obvious matter of etiquette into history's most famous stone tablets, proving something rather worrying is afoot.
Namely, to abuse His holy Name is to demonstrate just how distant we are from the relationship for which He yearns — how distant we are from understanding, accepting, appreciating, and/or trusting His promises to us that He is with us. He was present with Moses at the burning bush. He is present with us today.
How can we know for sure? Because He tells us so, time and time again.
Let's roll the tape:
Joshua 1:9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Deuteronomy 31:6: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."
Psalm 23:4: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
In the New Testament, too, examples are plentiful:
Matthew 28:20: "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
1 Corinthians 3:16: "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
God spells it out for us in the Gospel of St. Matthew when an angel references the coming fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming, "Behold, the virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel" (1:23).
What does Immanuel translate to from the original Hebrew? "God with us."
Why Words Matter
As with all of the Ten Commandments, the second commandment has less to do with the negative — i.e, don't — as it does with the positive.
Indeed, the second commandment calls upon us to take God by His word. The commandment is nothing short of a plea to "protect the wonderful mystery of His accessibility to us, and constantly assert His true identity" (Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth).
Because God's words matter, our words should matter. The word "vain" means "devoid of meaning, falsehood, and inconsequential." Therefore, the red flag raised when we break the second commandment signifies that we have emptied ourselves of His significance.
We are called to honor the second commandment not just because He is deserving, but because we are deserving. Dispense for a moment with the decree that we are to be holy, "for He is holy" (Lev 19:2) and consider how we already were made holy when we were baptized. And how were we baptized? In His holy Name — in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, to use His Name in vain and to take false oaths or promises in His Name are symptoms of a larger problem. And to have to be told that we are to use His Name only in praising, thanking, and acknowledging Him — to bless, praise, and glorify it is a symptom of a larger problem.
That problem is that we fail to know Him, fail to appreciate Him, and thereby fail to delight in Him as He delights in us.
Note, when George Washington upbraided his troops for being potty mouths, he may or may not have been speaking from his high horse. But when God reproves us for failing to keep holy His Name, He looks at us in the eye, bent on one knee, a loving Father who wants only the best for us.
To learn more about the second commandment, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, articles 2142-2167.
+ + +
1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides Me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.