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OMG! LOL! NOT.

By Fr. G. Peter Irving III
June 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When "OH, MY GOD" becomes a mindless expression of wonderment, surprise, approval or disgust over something trivial, vile or mundane, it is a sin and even potentially a grave sin against the Second Commandment, Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain.

LONG BEACH, CA (Catholic Online) In the world of text messaging and Facebook, OMG is short hand for "Oh, my God!" A teenager asked me recently, "Father, is it a sin to text, OMG? Is it a sin to think or say, "Oh, my God?"

This is how I answered her.

The traditional Act of Contrition that many of us learned as children begins with OMG! "OH, MY GOD, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee ." Obviously, there can be no sin in this, presuming one prays this prayer with attention and devotion! This is a prayer expressing sorrow for sin and the desire to be forgiven.

But when OMG is followed by LOL ("Laugh out loud") or a vulgar shorthand or vapid banter, then, yes! When "OH, MY GOD" becomes a mindless expression of wonderment, surprise, approval or disgust over something trivial, vile or mundane, yes, it is a sin and even potentially a grave sin against the Second Commandment, Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain.

In the Gospel reading of Satruday's Mass Jesus tells us:

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all" (Matthew 5:33-34b).

How are we to understand these words of our Lord? To answer this question, we must first define what swearing an oath means.

Father John Hardon, S.J., gives this definition: "An oath is the invocation of God's name to bear witness to the truth. A person, being conscious of his or her own fallibility professes by an oath that God is omniscient and the omnipotent avenger of falsehood."

Heretics (e.g., Pelagians) condemned oath taking altogether based on Jesus' words, "But I say to you, do not swear at all." The Church has never interpreted Jesus' words in this way. Father Cornelius A Lapide in his commentary on this passage states that to forbid oath taking in toto is " . an error of faith, which the perpetual practice of the Church, as well as the example of God Himself, of St. Paul, and the Saints condemns, as is plain from [scripture] ."

The CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH says: "Following St. Paul, the tradition of the Church has understood Jesus' words [Matthew 5:34b] as not excluding oaths made for grave and right reasons (for example, in court). 'An oath, that is the invocation of the divine name as a witness to truth, cannot be taken unless in truth, in judgment, and in justice.'" (CCC, 2154).

In Galatians 1:20, St. Paul, who certainly knew the teaching of Christ, wrote to his audience attesting to the truth of his message: "I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie." He swore an oath! He invoked the Holy Name to attest to the veracity of his words.

Clearly, God does not forbid the taking of oaths but rather swearing falsely. The CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH explains: "Taking an oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one's own truthfulness. An oath engages the Lord's name . A false oath calls on God to be witness to a lie." (CCC, 2150-2151)

There are occasions in life when we are called upon to swear an oath. Before their ordination, priests swear an oath to uphold all that the Catholic Church teaches and to obey their ordinary or superior. Before getting married, a couple individually swears to tell the truth in answering a series of questions which are designed to ascertain each one's intention and his or her freedom to marry. When one is called to testify before a judge or jury, one takes an oath to tell the truth in answering the questions. The President of the United States (as well as other public officials) takes the "Oath of Office" whereby he states: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

These are all examples of oath swearing and each one carries with it a consequence, either a blessing or a curse. In every instance where God's holy name is invoked divine assistance will come to the one who is upright and truthful and a divine curse will come to the one who violates that sacred oath.

If you're in the habit of texting OMG or saying OH, MY GOD, stop it. It may seem trivial in the context of texting or Facebooking, but cease and desist. And when you are in a position in which you are required to take an oath, do not do so lightly.

We live in a nation in which sincerity and honesty are in short supply. Let's not forget that the 42nd President of the United States was impeached by the House of Representatives not because of his immoral actions with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but because, among other things, he lied under oath. Even in spite of that, he was not removed from office and is to this day admired by millions of Americans. In fact, just recently, President Clinton was named "Father of the Year" by the National Father's Day Council. It is an odd choice, indeed, but one which speaks volumes about the moral decay that has pervaded our nation.

What this means for us, then, is that we must be all the more determined to live a holiness of life. When this happens, when Christians live with integrity before God and man, God is glorified and everyone is edified.

Of course, without God's help we can do nothing. Therefore, let us call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. She will help us with her prayers to always honor God's holy name.

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Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is pastor of Holy Innocents Catholic Church in Long Beach, California.

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