He shuffled his feet and looked up at my husband with troubled eyes.
“Did you say it? Did you say ‘Oh my G**?’ ”
“No…I don’t think so…I don’t know…”
My son glanced around the room as if he could find the answer written on the wall while the ticking clock counted down the seconds to his sentencing. But instead of a punishment, my husband gave him a gentle lesson in honoring God’s name:
“You may say ‘Oh my goodness,’ but only use God’s name for good things. That is one of the Ten Commandments, and we should honor it.”
A reminder that this is one of our cherished commandments struck a chord with my son, and he readily agreed that he should avoid saying anything that could even be mistaken for taking the Lord’s name in vain.
But how can I help my son follow through with his agreement? How can I strengthen his resolve to honor the name of Jesus? As the traditional month for recognizing devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, January is the perfect time to explore answers to my questions.
An Unnecessary Commandment
I want to transform the commandment “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” into an unnecessary rule for our family–unnecessary because the name of Jesus triggers a fervent desire, an urgency to do whatever it takes to achieve union with the One we love most. This is what the name Jesus can do when we’ve trained our hearts to embrace its power.
Nowhere else do we find a name that means Savior of the world, or that encompasses the whole of God’s love for us. This is why “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:10
While it may not be practical for our family to bend our knees and praise God every time we hear or speak the name of Jesus, we can make the effort to practice a more subtle devotion. In the book The Little Oratory, authors David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler suggest teaching our children to bow their heads slightly when the name of Jesus is mentioned during prayer. This creates a habit of honoring the One who saves us. It reminds us there is one name powerful enough to rescue us from the clutches of temptation. Our hearts learn from the actions of our bodies. The importance of the name is made clear by the humility of our posture. Most importantly, a bow of the head enables us to linger a bit longer with the One we love and to become familiar with Him as resident of our hearts.
But Won’t I Feel Silly?
When I read about devotions like these, I’ll admit that I feel a bit awkward about practicing them. Will I look like I’m putting on a show? Will I become like a holier-than-thou Pharisee? I want my outward actions to be a genuine reflection of the interior of my heart. But I also want to use my outward actions to form the intentions of my heart. I tried the devotion of bowing my head at the name of Jesus in the privacy of Adoration first. Then I introduced it to my children while they said their Morning Offering in the privacy of our home. I find that practicing new devotions in a private setting allows those devotions time to start flowing naturally and become a part of who we are. Our family has been saying a blessing before meals even when we are out in a restaurant for some time now. We don’t think twice about it or what anyone else around us might think. We just do it. It’s who we are.
So it is with all of our religious devotions. Yes, at times we must use prudence and ensure that others feel comfortable being drawn into our faith practices rather than turned off by them. We are always working for the good of the whole in this way. But at the same time, we must not feel conscientious about doing our best to be a better Christian and improve our relationship with the Lord. Growing in our faith while living in the world is hard. It’s humbling. At times we are misunderstood, and at times we will realize that we have been guilty of spiritual pride. But this is one way our devotions purify us: by helping us to constantly evaluate our intentions and keep them centered on God.
An Act of Love
When a mother runs toward a busy street, yelling at her toddler who is about to step into traffic, she isn’t thinking about whether or not she looks silly. Neither is anyone else. They simply see an act of love. They catch a glimpse of the profound unity between mother and child. This is what I hope others see in our family’s devotion to our faith. A natural overflowing of love for our Lord and a desire to hold on to the One who means everything.
The devil wants us to be in the habit of disconnecting our physical actions from our hearts and souls. But the fullness of our Catholic faith offers us so many ways to combat this. Water trickling over a baby’s head, the creak of a kneeler at Mass, the smell of chrism oil, and a husband and wife open to God’s plan for their family–these are all ways that help us prepare to give ourselves completely to God in heaven one day. The Theology of the Body teaches us that our bodies and hearts are one. In training one we train the other.
When my son bows his head at the mention of Jesus, the sacredness of the name is reinforced, and his heart will remember well what his body is teaching it.
Seek out the physical nuances of our faith that reinforce our resolve to worship God and do His will. Teach them to your children. Make them a way of life. And like a mother running after her toddler, you too can reveal the merciful love of God.