How do I avoid misusing God’s name?

The Second Commandment forbids the wrong use or misuse of God’s name. There are a number of ways in which this happens. Blasphemy uses the name of God and of Jesus Christ as well as those of the Blessed Mother and the saints in an offensive manner. The Catechism teaches that blasphemy consists “in uttering against God—inwardly or outwardly—words of hatred, reproach, or defiance” (CCC, no. 2148). This is gravely sinful. Habitual disrespect for God, displayed in cursing and even in the use of vulgar language, can create an attitude that erodes our relationship with the Lord.

At the same time, we recognize diminished culpability when the name of God is used because of an outburst of undisciplined speech due to passion or unexpected incitement to anger. We need to cultivate a persistent reverence for sacred names; if we do not, we can end up giving bad example and also fall into the sin of blasphemy. It should also be noted that in Scripture, the sometimes passionate language of the Prophets, in which they lament the troubles of their times and utter loud complaints to God, is not blasphemy or the taking of God’s name in vain. It is actually prayer addressed to God.

We are forbidden to use God’s name to witness a perjury or false oath, thereby using him to approve our lie.

God’s name has been invoked to justify unjust wars and terrorism, slaughter enemies, and impose unwarranted power over others. Many have used the God of love to promote hatred, the God of trust to facilitate betrayal, and the God of mercy to validate acts of cruelty. Critics of religion cite the suffering and cruelty caused by the excesses by some of those who participated in the Crusades, the wars of religion during the Reformation, and the Salem witch trials as examples of using God’s name to justify such acts. The sins of Christians do indeed undermine the credibility of faith. The name of God must never be used to support immoral acts.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

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