by Father Daniel A. Lord, Don’t Swear Like That!
Part One is here.
Asking for Good
God, Himself, if we could attribute to Him human emotions, should be amazed that His name is most frequently used, not to beseech blessings, but to invoke evil and misfortune. For one man who prays for the world’s salvation, half a dozen seem perfectly willing to consign themselves and all around them to eternal ruin.
‘Well, I’ll be damned!” is the commonest of imprecations. ‘Well, if it ain’t my old friend, Bill! Damn your hide anyhow!” is plain formula.
And “Get the hell out of here!” is said in seriousness almost as often as it is said in the spirit of sheer fun. Some fun!
Calling on God
Apparently there was never a time in history nor a parody on religion in which the people did not constantly call on God or the gods. Perhaps that is a kind of inverted proof of man’s closeness to the supernatural. The pagan nations, for instance, were eternally demanding the attention of their gods.
“By Jove!”, “By Venus!” “May Bacchus hear me!”- these were merely Roman equivalents for the “By Zeus!”, “As Aphrodite is my mistress!”, “As true as Pallas Athena hears me!” among the Greeks. Way back in Babylon and Egypt the men who were least likely to pray to the gods and goddesses were most likely to use the names of those gods and goddesses to testify that they were not offering a bad silver coin or that the mare they were selling did not have the spavin disease.
Reverence for His Names
Against this frivolous use of the gods’ names – a custom characteristic of pagandom – the Jewish religion protected the Holy Name of their God with the most solemn laws. Lest the name of the true God be used as carelessly as were those of Osiris or Astarte or Baal or Mercury, God’s proper name was never pronounced. Only the consonants without the vowels were printed, and in place of God’s sacred name another name was substituted.
Under the direct guidance of God Himself the Jews felt that His name was too holy a thing to be dragged around the stables of the racecourse, into the taverns of the village, under the feet of the mules and camels in the inn court, or on the rug spread to receive the gamblers’ dice. That name must be kept for prayer and solemn petition.
Hence God’s name was used only with the utmost reverence and directly toward God Himself. It was a potent name which, when invoked, drew to the speaker the attention of the creator of heaven and earth. It was a name so strong that cities fell at its sound. It was the word symbol for the omnipotent Maker of all things, the King of heaven and the Lord of Hosts.
So, let the pagans swear by Hercules if they wanted to. The one and only God of the Jews was no demi-deity, no mere deified hero, no human passion turned into a weakling god. If a Roman gambler called upon Mercury to give him a run of luck, it was because he regarded Mercury as a trickster who was not above loading the dice. If the name of Bacchus was tossed around the banquet table, it was taken for granted that the unsavoury god would have felt right at home with the other drunkards.
But to the Jews the name of their God was the name of the glorious Maker and Ruler of the universe. He was their Father, their gracious king. His name was their shield and protection in time of battle. His name was a word too sacred to be heard outside the holiest courts of the Temple.
Christ continued this command against the careless use of His Father’s name. He outlawed frivolous and purposeless oaths of all sorts. He bade His followers invoke upon one another only what was good and noble. Christ could see no possible parallel between the careless pagan’s crying out “By Jove!” to invoke that libertine of Olympus and the true believer’s swearing “By God!” and “By the Almighty!” – words which called upon the one true God to turn His attention to the affairs of men.
His Own Dear Name
The name of Jesus Christ should have for us the loveliest and most gracious of associations.
It is the name chosen by the Almighty for His Son. It is the name that Mary whispered over the crib of her Baby. When the shepherds and the Magi asked in wonder, ‘What is His name? Mary smiled and answered, “He is called Jesus.”
In that name demons were hurled from their victims. At that name hell itself trembled and the prince of evil knew that he had found his conqueror.
That name blends all our hopes: The name Jesus means our Saviour; the name Christ means the one anointed by God and intended to be our king and leader.
So throughout history the Church has cried out to the Trinity in the firm certainty that she would receive grace and power and light and strength when she asked favors. ” . . . through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
In the Name of . . .
There can be strength and meaning in the use of a name. There is the story of the general of the American Revolution who pounded on the doors of the British fort and demanded entrance “in the name of the Lord God Jehovah and the Continental Congress”. Ambassadors speak in the name of the countries they represent. Even the fairy tales pay tribute to the power of the name, for the evil genii of “The Arabian Nights were held captive in the name of Solomon, and gates were mysteriously opened when the name of a great spirit was spoken.”
So with divine authority Jesus Christ gave to His name tremendous power.
“Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, He promised, that will I do.”
He reminded His followers that hitherto they had asked nothing in His name. Henceforth His name was to be a word strong enough in its utterance to open the gates of heaven and to touch the very heart of the eternal Father.
No wonder that the Apostles immediately began to preach and work miracles “in His name”. In His name they bade the lame man arise and walk, and he obeyed. In His name they faced the hostile multitudes and won them to truth. In His name they marched out to conquer the world of their day, and with no other power they won through to victory.
“Like Christ, we bend our hearts down to the lowly, the little ones. We wipe away tears, change diapers, put on band-aids, feed the hungry and many other menial, yet meaningful services. We are available for the powerless, not the powerful.” – Finer Femininity, Artist: Arthur John Elsley (1860-1952)
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