As my kids begin new schools, and face new blessings and challenges, one of the themes that has again emerged (as of necessity) is the culture of vulgar language.
I know I posted about this already, and don’t want to beat a dead horse, but since it’s already dead…
While pondering this afresh, I recently came across Colossians 3:8 and my thoughts on this topic were reignited. Hence, this post. St. Paul reminds the Colossians of their pre-Christian pagan manner of life, ’…in this way you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way. But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.’ Scottish Biblical scholar William Barclay (Fulton Sheen’s fav commentator), commenting on this passage offered this aside:
There can never have been a time in history when so much filthy language is used as it is today. And the tragedy is that today there are many people who have become so habituated to unclean talk that they are unaware that they are using it.
That was 1957.
The Jewish-Christian view of language sees ‘the word’ as a primal sign of God’s image stamped in humanity, and icon of God’s all-creative Word who became flesh to reveal to us the regal purpose of language: to make known the dignity, beauty, truth and goodness of existence. The core-call of the Christian is to be a unique, set-apart sign of the way-we’re-supposed-to-be; to live a ‘Christian difference.’
After reading Fr. Purcell’s book, I was astounded by the staggering mystery of the origins of human language, and amazed by the thought that this God-breathed universe labored for billions of years to birth human beings that could finally give it a voice to return to its Maker a Godlike language of thanksgiving and praise.
Did that unspeakably immense history conceived in the mind of God unfold only to give birth to the F-bomb?
Our language either reveals or conceals the divine image stamped in the human heart, and when we stand before the ‘dread judgment seat of Christ’ we will be asked to account for the every word. Mine will be a long judgment.
Our bodies were created to glorify God, were transformed in Baptism into Temples of the ineffable Trinity, and our voices are the prime instrument of that Temple. As a friend of ours from Boston said (with a Baahstin accent) after a remarkable conversion back to the faith, ‘I can’t cuss any more, cuz now I know the Holy Spirit’s listening!’
This summer I spent time with a priest who has served for 40+ years as an exorcist. One thing he mentioned stuck with me, ‘One universal characteristic of exorcisms is that the inhabiting demons know how to curse in all languages; and profanity is their lingua franca.’
Why? Because they’re in the business of concealing, not revealing God.
I remember in July of 1987, about 6 months after my ‘conversion experience,’ I was working in a factory in the machine shop. The men there were good and hard working men, many of them had been there for decades. And they were, naturally, known for their salty language.
Now, after my return to the faith I had made what was for me a radical decision to never swear again.
One day we were all taking lunch and talking shop, and, as ever, the profanities danced off their tongues like a litany. I thought, ‘Man, I tired of acting like I’m holier-than-thou,’ and I threw in to the conversation (with pleasure!) a juicy cuss. They all stopped dead in the middle of the conversation, and the bearded elder of the group said, ‘Nope. That’s not who you are, Neal. Don’t lower yourself.’
And they continued on reciting their litany, and left me making an final, inner resolution to take The Pledge.
Okay, I’ll let the poor horse alone now.