Catholic Voices - Hallowed be thy name

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The blessed name of God should never become a curse

Jesus loves us so much. He shows us the way to the Father and he gives us a truly intimate way to address him. He has us call God “Our Father.” Then he has us immediately declare that his name is hallowed — meaning holy, sacred, greatly revered, blessed.

From the Ten Commandments, we know we are not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain. Jesus makes it clear we are to go even further and hallow his name.

Mary Manning
Mary Manning

Growing up, I was taught that I should call on the name of God in prayer, and that if I was not praying, I should not call on his name. That sounds straightforward. I can only imagine how annoyed I would be if someone kept saying my name when they had no intention of talking to me. And yet, in today’s culture, it is not uncommon to hear the Creator’s name, and the name of his Son, used outside the realm of prayer.

In many cases, it seems people are just “saying words” and place no meaning on them. But if so, why are they saying those words? I suspect the answer is “bad habit.” Another reason may be that we tend to repeat what we hear from TV, movies, friends, family, etc., and if what we hear is bad, what we speak may also be bad.

But it’s actually not just speech. With the proliferation of texts and tweets, a commonly seen acronym is based on what should be a truly meaningful prayer: Oh my God, help me! Oh my God, thank you! And yet, the resultant acronym rarely, if ever, appears to have any connection to a prayer. Once again, this seems like a “bad habit.”

Worse, a too-common phrase, deployed when things seem to be going badly, demands that God condemn a situation (or person!) to suffer eternal punishment in hell. Oh my! If things are going badly, would that not make them much, much worse? I’ve asked that question on occasion — mainly in hopes of helping the speaker realize what they’ve just said. It’s a way of pointing out (lightly, if need be) that not only is the language offensive, the demand is truly scary. We believe in God and we believe God answers prayer. Can any of us want God to answer that prayer?

Words matter. God has given us explicit directions with respect to the use of God’s name. If it’s a habit for us or others to say the name when not in prayer, what can we do other than confess it? First, I’ll suggest we try to stay away from situations where that language is used. Next, if this is a problem with our own language, perhaps we can start by catching ourselves before the words escape our lips or, if they do come out, by apologizing and then saying a true prayer and asking for forgiveness. If that voice in our heads is slow to drop the habit, let’s catch it there and make it a silent prayer, and add an apology. Less sin and more prayer — sounds like a win-win!

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Northwest Catholic - September 2018