Word Magazine December 1967 Page 12-13
TAKE NOT THE NAME OF THE LORD
YOUR GOD IN VAIN
By the Rev. Fr. Michael J. Buben
St. George’s Church, Lawrence, Mass.
One fine warm day as I walked through the Common, I overheard a youngster say to his companion, ‘Pardon the language ~~~!’, and he followed this with a barrage of foul language which would have embarrassed soldiers in the barracks. Perhaps, as the “mods” say, he was only getting rid of inhibitions, but the tragedy was augmented by the fact that his companions were what I like to think of as young ladies. One of these was smoking a cigarette as if her life depended on it.
Not too many years ago even the toughest guys on any corner still had an unwritten code which made them refrain from degrading themselves to this extent in the presence of the fair sex. Anyone who did swear in front of a lady, young or old, was automatically placed on the gang’s “way out” list. It just was not proper, even in the meanest environment.
Perhaps it was my duty to preach out of season, but their looks alone told me when they saw me that they would resent advice. As I walked on, I wondered if the girl’s parents knew that she smoked. Did the Supreme Court’s prohibition of prayers in the public schools contribute to this lack of moral values? Did these kids ever go to church and hear about the Ten Commandments, or did the parents guide them in any principles of conduct? Perhaps it is the adults of our generation who are the delinquents. Consider the movies that are offered. How many of us have read the obscenities that can be bought at the newsstands? Are not adults at fault for making such trash available?
In the present article I would like to state specifically what goes wrong each time we swear. As a pastor I shall try to write from God’s viewpoint, not from that of science, sociology, or politics. It is time we began to take God back into our educational viewpoint.
The Ten Commandments which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai are the foundation upon which rests the structure of our civilization. These laws of God are timeless and ageless. There never will be an age or a civilization which can without peril to itself say that it is all right to lie, to steal, to bear false witness, to commit adultery, or to kill. From the Ten Commandments comes the moral cement which binds mankind together. The words of these Commandments echo in every Christian Church and every Jewish Synagogue. They constitute the most ancient of precepts to which thoughtful men everywhere will give assent. They strike a universal chord and sound the eternal music that God has set in the heart of man.
The Third Commandment says simply: YOU SHALL NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD YOUR GOD IN VAIN.
What does this mean? This Commandment simply forbids all irreverence, for when we lose respect for God, we lose respect for ourselves who were made in His image. We are forbidden to use His Name for useless purposes and in ordinary conversation. “And you shall not swear by My name falsely, and so profane the name of Your God; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:12.) “Blessed be the Name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” (Ps. 113:2.) “At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow.” (Phil. 2:10.)
Because we preface a curse with an apology “Excuse me,” the curse is no less a curse and a sin. Like the song, “A kiss is still a kiss,” a sin is still a sin and always will be, even though by intellectual exercises we eliminate the word or change its name. What is sin? A sin is a transgression of God’s laws. Ignorance of God’s laws is never an excuse.
Using the name of God lightheartedly, with levity, and with frequent and needless repetition in conversation is swearing. A common example of this transgression is the phrase “honest to God.” Because a clergyman used it as the title of a book does not make it acceptable. The Bible says: Do not swear. Let what you say be simple, and direct, and learn words with which to express your ideas so that you do not need to degrade God and yourself.
Our mouths and lips were given us to praise and revere God. With our mouths we eat our daily bread and partake of Holy Communion. With our lips we say prayers, reverence the Cross and the Holy Ikons. To use that same mouth and lips to pour forth foul words and dishonor what is sacred is like smearing ourselves with filth after a bath. This is why St. Paul wrote: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”
The word “mother” is often used by people in swearing. Let those who do this contemplate the holiness of the word. Are we not all brothers and sisters because of those who bring us into this world? Do we not therefore insult all mothers when we blaspheme against the Holy Mother? The Old Testament was very harsh in the punishment prescribed for those who disrespected mothers.
Those who swear insult their guardian Angel, cause the devil to rejoice, and separate themselves from the guidance of Divine Providence. Is it any wonder that King David wrote a Psalm especially to ask the Lord to help guard what proceeded from his mouth? Many other prophets and saints prayed constantly that God would help them to guard against the evil which comes from the mouth. None of us will be held guiltless for the words with which we cause offense to others, and this is especially true of our offense before children. The Bible warns us: “Woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”