THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
SYNOPSIS.Misusing the name of God a dreadful crime. But this sin, in spite of its enormity, very common. The various sins against the second commandment:
I. Blasphemy and swearing.
II. Imprecations and curses.
III. Swearing falsely, or perjury.
Distinction of these sins necessary for the penitent confessing them. The Holy Ghost, as also Jesus Christ, warning against these sins. Punishments threatened.
We ought to be wondering, dear brethren, that God found it necessary to forbid, by a special commandment, the misuse of His holy name. Is it conceivable, my dear people, that Christians make themselves tools of the devil by reviling so good and beneficent a God? Can we imagine that a tongue which has been consecrated to God in Holy Baptism, and has so often been honored with His most adorable flesh and blood, might be employed in reviling its Creator? Could we possibly do this if we really believed that God gave it to us, to magnify Him and to sing His praises? Surely this is a dreadful crime, which in a manner compels God to visit us with manifold miseries, and to abandon us to the devil, whom we serve with so much zeal? This crime must appear appalling to any one who has not entirely last faith. And yet, in spite of the enormity, the horror, and the iniquity of this sin, there is hardly any sin more common than swearing, blaspheming, and cursing. Do we not often hear even little children swear who hardly know the "Our Father"? The second commandment, which forbids us to swear falsely, or unnecessarily, says: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." In that commandment God tells us: "I order and command you to respect my name, because it is holy and worthy of the greatest reverence. I forbid you to profane it by using it in falsehood, an injustice, or without sufficient reason."
I will now try and show you, dear brethren, what is understood by
I. Blasphemy and swearing.
II. Imprecations and curses.
III. Swearing falsely, or perjury.
Ignorant people frequently confound blasphemy with swearing. An unfortunate man may in a moment of anger or despair cry out: "God is not just, because He permits me to suffer this, or to lose that." He has blasphemed God, and not sworn, in using these words, and yet in confession he accuses himself: "Father, I accuse myself of having sworn." What he has really done was not swearing, but blaspheming. A person is falsely accused of something which he has not done. He says, to justify himself: "If I did this may I never see the face of God." This is not swearing, but a fearful imprecation. These are two sins which are just as grievous as false oaths. Another one calls his neighbor a thief, a rascal, and then accuses himself of having sworn at his neighbor. That is not swearing, but using injurious words. Still another uses foul, indecent words, and accuses himself of having used godless talk; he should accuse himself of having used obscene language. To swear, dear brethren, means to call God to witness our statements, and by perjury we understand a false oath; that is to say, if somebody takes an oath to confirm a falsehood.
The name of God is so holy, so great, and so adorable that, according to the testimony of St. John, the angels and saints in heaven cry out unceasingly: "Holy, holy, holy is the great God of the heavenly host; his name shall be praised from eternity to eternity!" When the Blessed Virgin visited her cousin Elizabeth, and that holy woman said to her, "Blessed art thou who has been chosen to be the Mother of God," the Blessed Virgin answered, "For he that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name." We also should have a great reverence for God's name, and never utter it without the greatest veneration, or take it in vain. St. Thomas says that it is a sin to take the name of God in vain; for instance, swearing is a sin unlike others, as in other sins insignificance of the circumstances diminishes the enormity of the sin. Stealing is, properly speaking, a mortal sin, but stealing something very trifling, only a couple of pennies, for instance, is still a sin, but only a venial sin. The same is true of anger and gluttony. But it is entirely different with swearing: the smaller the matter the greater the desecration. For the more insignificant the matter is the greater the contempt.
"The house of him," says the Holy Ghost, "who swears habitually fills itself with injustice, and the curse only departs therefrom when it is destroyed." Jesus Christ says in the Gospel that we should neither swear by heaven nor by the earth, because neither the one nor the other can hear us. If you wish to assert anything, say: "It is so, or, it is not so; yes or no; I did it, or, I did not do it"; everything that you say in addition to this is of evil. Besides this, a person who habitually swears is an irascible person, who is a slave to his own temper; he swears, whether lying or telling the truth. But you may say, if I do not swear to some things they will not be believed. There you are mistaken, for a person who is addicted to swearing is not believed, for it indicates a person without religion, and a person without religion is not considered truthworthy. If you desire, dear brethren, to be happy in this life, and that God should bless your houses, never swear, and you will see that everything will be well in your house. God tells us that His curse will descend upon the house where there is much swearing and destroy it. Why, my dear brethren, do you let yourselves be carried away and swear, although God has forbidden it by the penalty of misfortune in this life and perdition in the next?
There are many other more wicked desecrations of the name of God; for instance, when imprecations are added to swearing. An unfortunate man says: "If that is not the truth I do not want to go to heaven!" and so forth. Alas! O blasphemous sinner, the devil rejoices at thy vile and godless speech. Others, again, have the name of the devil on the tip of their tongue when the slightest thing vexes them. It is to be feared that a person who so frequently has the devil's name upon his lips must bear him also in his heart!
Another kind of swearing, or imprecations, are the curses made in our heart. Many believe that because they do not utter them with the lips they are therefore not sinning, but you are greatly mistaken, my friends. Some one has done you an injury, and you curse him in your heart and wish that evil may befall him and perhaps you carry these thoughts in your heart for a long time, and you believe that it does not matter because you did not utter them with your lips. My friends, that is a grievous sin, and you must accuse yourself of it distinctly or else you lose your soul. Ah, how few know the condition of their poor soul as it is in the sight of God!
There are persons who are still more culpable, for they swear to what is false. If you properly meditate over the contempt shown to God by perjury you would never dare to commit it. You behave toward God like a poor slave who would say to a king: "King, you must bear false witness for me. Does not the thought of perjury fill you with horror, dear brethren? God tells us in Holy Scripture: "Be holy, because I am holy." Do not lie and cheat your neighbor and do not commit perjury, because thereby you call the name of the Lord thy God to witness a lie, and do not profane the name of the Lord. St. John Chrysostom says: "If it is a fault to swear to the truth, how much greater a crime is it to swear falsely, or to a lie?" The Holy Ghost says that those who disseminate lies will perish. The prophet Zacharias assures us that the curse will fall upon the house of him who takes an oath to a lie, and that the curse will remain on the house until it is destroyed. St. Augustine says that perjury is a great crime, and like a wild beast that causes fearful havoc. This sin is still more grievous when imprecations are added to a false oath.
Many persons swear to a promise without having any intention of keeping the promise. Before we promise anything we should examine first whether we can fulfil our promise. And never promise anything under oath. If in a moment of anger we should vow to take revenge, it is quite certain that such promise must not be kept, but that, on the contrary, we should beg pardon of God. The Holy Ghost says that whosoever swears will be punished.
If you ask me how it is that nowadays we hear of so many false oaths, imprecations, horrible blasphemies, and curses, I can only reply that persons who commit such dreadful sins have neither faith, conscience, or virtue, but are forsaken by God. Oh, how much happier should we be if we only used our tongue, consecrated to God in Holy Baptism, to pray to so good and beneficent a God and to sing His praises! Since God has given us our tongue for this purpose, let us endeavor to dedicate it to Him, so that after this earthly life we may have the happiness of praising Him in heaven for all eternity, the blessing which I wish you all. Amen.