The Underappreciated Second Commandment

By Cordelia Fitzgerald (Rated G)

If you, like me, happened to grow up Catholic, you’re probably pretty familiar with the concept of an Examination of Conscience. This rather self-explanatory practice is usually used before the Sacrament of Confession, in order to inventory the laundry list of nastiness before it’s absolved in the confessional. One of the first things you’re taught is to run through the Ten Commandments as a fairly comprehensive way of judging your conduct. However, after doing so from the innocence of youth for so long, it can end up having a certain mundane aspect to it. We forget how to look through them in a meaningful way. Sure, as we get older, we progress from the “have you worshiped a statue recently” aspect of “have no other gods before me” to “what have you put first in your life – God, or money, video games, comfort, food…?”

But what of the second (Catholic) commandment? It’s pretty straightforward: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” … so, don’t swear. This is one, I confess, that I would frequently gloss over; I usually make a habit of watching my vocabulary, so it turned into a simple yes or no question. Then, one day, it struck me – do not take His name in vain – what is His name? Well, the only given name we have that’s not some form of describing attributes (I AM, God, Holy Spirit) is Jesus Christ (well, Christ/Messiah is a role, but let’s go with it.) Then came the part that really gave me pause; I usually call myself a Catholic, but another title that is just as accurate, if less specific, is Christian. I bear the name of Christ. 

Have you ever had the feeling that you needed to watch yourself in a special way because you were representing something? Maybe you are the only one from your company at a conference, or you’re meeting your sister’s future in-laws for the first time. Either way, you feel some responsibility of representation, and there’s an added bit of pressure not to let that person or company or family down.

And therein lies the point. The moment we take the name “Christian,” we are proclaiming ourselves Christ’s representatives. Even if we aren’t acting in our “official” capacity, we might be the only Christian our acquaintances know. We might be under scrutiny that makes or breaks someone’s view of the Church. This is how we can take God’s name in vain. Are we acting in a Christ-like manner? Are we bearing His name worthily? Or are we taking Christ’s name in vain by our words or actions?

Perhaps this is a bit far-fetched; Heaven knows I’m no Scripture scholar. Would it hurt anything, though, to act this way? I think not. I think of all the times where I was impatient or cranky or snappish – is that what my Lord would have done in the same situation? (It is worth remembering that in the Bible, in my remembrance, the wrath of God was confined to the Old Testament and that one time in the Temple, but He constantly exuded and preached peace.) Sure, WWJD can be a little cringe, but maybe it’s time for a rebrand; maybe it’s time to think in terms of the Second Commandment – to not take the name of God in vain. Are you, the bearer of Christ’s name, going to let Him down?

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