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A matter of silence: Honoring the 2nd Commandment in daily life


Philippe de Champaigne | Public Domain

Daniel Esparza - published on 03/17/24

By approaching life with a sense of respectful silence, rather than presumptuous pronouncements, we open ourselves to a deeper experience of the divine. 

The second commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7), calls us to a deeper level of respect for God. As explored in Ignasi Moreta’s book (Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain), this Commandment goes beyond simply avoiding profanity. It challenges us to live with a deep awareness of the mystery of God and the limits of our human understanding.

Catholics (like members of most monotheistic religions) believe that God is infinitely beyond our comprehension. He reveals himself to us gradually, primarily through Scripture and Tradition. However, there is a temptation to act as if we have complete knowledge of God’s will. Perhaps we readily invoke his name to justify our actions, pronouncements, or even political agendas. This, according to Moreta, borders on blasphemy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the noted theologian, famously said that “one act of obedience is better than a hundred sermons.” This principle beautifully complements the second commandment. Taking God’s name seriously means recognizing the gap between our limited understanding and God’s ultimate plan. Rather than acting “in his name,” often to further our own agendas, true respect lies in faithful obedience to what we already know of him through Scripture and the teachings of the Church.

Approaching all of life this way

This obedience doesn’t require a complete understanding of God’s will in every situation.  Instead, it involves living out core Christian values such as love, compassion, and service. When we encounter a moral dilemma, the call isn’t to immediately invoke God’s name for justification, but to prayerfully seek guidance based on revealed truths.  

Discernment, a cornerstone of Catholic practice, becomes crucial here. It allows us to navigate the complexities of life while honoring the mystery of God and avoiding the presumption of knowing His will perfectly.

Living the second commandment isn’t always easy. It requires a healthy dose of humility, a willingness to admit our limitations, and a trust in God’s unfolding plan. But by approaching life with a sense of respectful silence, rather than presumptuous pronouncements made “in his name,” we open ourselves to a deeper experience of the divine. 

We become more receptive to God’s quiet promptings in our hearts, which ultimately bring us closer to living a life in harmony with his will.

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