Parents are often shocked to hear their kids say their first “cuss word.” While it may be funny to hear a child give voice to a word that they do not know the meaning of, it is also a cause of embarrassment and shame for their parents at the same time. This is because the parents know exactly who taught them how and when to say this word! It is an important lesson in using our words only for building others up and praising God.
The Second Commandment reads, “You shall not use the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” By extension, this commandment means that we should also not use vulgar or suggestive speech. At certain points in our lives, I am sure we have all struggled to keep purity of speech. Young people often tend toward making lewd or suggestive jokes with their friends, and it can be hard to not fall into peer pressure to join in on what is thought to be fun. Some workplaces, especially with workers who do manual labor, are so full of foul language that it just becomes a regular part of one’s vocabulary. And many people have the habit of saying, “O my God” for no good reason.
As Christians, our speech is very important. Even if we do not say bad words in front of our kids or friends, God still hears our speech and our own ears hear our speech. It can be easy to write off using cuss words as not being a big deal, and in some cases, this may be true. However, we should not underestimate the power of the words we say. Imagine if “O my God” were replaced with a racial slur. The people around you would be shocked and ask you why you said that. If you said you didn’t really mean it, so it is no big deal, the people around you would say that it is still a big deal. Jesus talked about how our speech expresses the depths of our hearts when he said, “Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile” (Matthew 15:17-18). What comes out of our mouth first comes from our heart (and our brain).
One of my favorite scripture passages on this topic is found in the letter of St. James. James is one of the most practical books in the bible, and if you think your faith needs to be more practical, turn to this book. He writes at length about the power of speech in chapter 3: “If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretentions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna” (James 3:2-6). Our tongue is like a bridle in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship. We can usually tell by someone’s speech if they are happy or sad, angry or content, Christian or not. May we all use our speech to build others up and give honor to our God. If we struggle with profanity or saying God’s name in vain, the Hail Mary can be a good remedy. The best way to overcome a struggle is with a counterattack. The Hail Mary is centered on the name of Jesus. When you find yourself struggling with speech, say a few Hail Mary’s and focus on giving honor to the name of Jesus.