When my little sister, Martha, was seven years old, she learned the second commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” She also learned that when she heard someone take the Lord’s name in vain, she could show reverence for God in her heart by saying the prayer, “Blessed be God’s holy name” to herself.

Martha decided to take this act of piety a bit farther. The lone girl on the street, she was regularly included in the games of cops and robbers, football and Star Wars re-enactments that the neighborhood boys her age played. As her older sister, I thought these boys were all very sweet. Martha, however, expressed concern that they regularly broke the second commandment and took the Lord’s name in vain while playing.

In the interest of teaching these boys some reverence, Martha started piping up with “Blessed be God’s holy name” whenever they took God’s name in vain. Explaining — as only 7 year old Martha could do — that their casual exclamation was very meaningful to her — she didn’t admonish them or chuck a Bible at their heads. She just slipped her prayer in as they played street hockey and battled with nerf guns.

Her efforts paid off. Kind of. One afternoon, while doing my homework in the kitchen, I heard her friend Bobby mutter, “OhMyGodBlessedBeHisHolyName” under his breath when he was surprised by a bumblebee.

“Did I just hear what I think I heard?” I asked my mom, who was doing dishes at the sink.

“Blessed be God’s Holy Name? Yep. Martha’s said it so much that now they all say it after they take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Her efforts were not in vain. (See what I did there?)

What 7-year-old Martha understood (and attempted to teach the neighborhood) was that the name of God is unlike any other word we say.

Imagine this moment: Moses has seen his people enslaved by the Egyptians and has fled into the desert. Then, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in the fire flaming out of a bush”, a bush that is described as “on fire” but “not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). He is literally called by God- as in he hears God saying “Moses! Moses” (Exodus 3:4). We know what happens next- Moses is sent by God to lead the Israelites into freedom from slavery. However, at the end of this exchange, Moses asks an important question.

“When I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” (Exodus 3:13).

At this moment, God tells Moses, “‘I am who am.’… This is what you are to tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). If you consult the footnotes in your handy Catholic Teen Bible, they explain that this is where the title “‘Yhwh,’ the personal name of the God of Israel” is given, since “many have interpreted the name ‘Yhwh’ as a third-person form of the verb meaning ‘He causes to be, creates…’”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “among all the words of Revelation, there is one which is unique: the revealed name of God. God confides his name to those who believe in him; he reveals himself to them in his personal mystery. The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy.” I can’t speak for Moses, but when I read this passage I can only imagine the way his relationship to God must have changed at that moment. Moses could now call out to God by name.

A very very weak analogy would be the moment of triumph we feel when we’re introduced to a crush or our favorite teacher recognizes us outside of school, when we’re shopping at the mall or something (oh wait. That was weird when it happened on Mean Girls, wasn’t it? Bad analogy. See! It’s so hard to even find a comparison to the wonder Moses must have felt!). To know and be known- it’s such a deep desire, and Moses- and consequently, all of us, now have this opportunity with our Creator and Redeemer.

God’s name is a big deal because He wants us to cry out to him with all our hopes, fears, wants and adoration. He wants to be in a relationship with us. This is why God commands us “you shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain” and even continues “For the Lord will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

Yet, like Martha’s friends from childhood, so many times we struggle with an “Oh my ____” or other exclamations that are not uttered in praise, honor or thanksgiving. We can write it off as, “Oh, I was praying… kind of…” but in our hearts we know if we were sincerely communicating with our creator or taking His name in vain. So how can we battle this, if it’s a habit that’s crept into our language?

We can start by taking a hint from Martha and adding “Blessed be God’s Holy Name” whenever we hear it used in vain- or when we break this commandment ourselves (how audibly you say it is up to you…) It’s also a great habit to bow your head (a simple nod is fine) when you hear the name of God, or speak His name in prayer yourself. We can take the sin to confession and be specific: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned, I took the Lord’s name in vain when they served mystery meat in the cafeteria”, and we can ask our friends and family to hold us accountable.

God reveals himself to us because He is our Father and we are his beloved children. Knowing His name means we can know Him. Blessed be God’s holy name, indeed.

About the Author

Alison Blanchet

I love being Catholic, coffee and buying shoes on sale. I'm afraid of catching things that are thrown at me, heights, and food on a stick. My first pet was a fish named Swimmy, whom my mother found creepy and flushed down the toilet when I was at school. She told me he died of natural causes.

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