It can be a horrible experience to drive through Lagos, Mumbai, Los Angeles or New York City during the rush hour. If you do, you’ll see and hear all sorts of crazy and impatient drivers. If a meter could tally the record-high of the amount of cursing or bad language imposed on the world—it would be during those hours in those cities—where foul language is used with reckless abandon. I imagine people do not reflect on why they take holy names in vain! Or why they curse a driver of another vehicle with words or signs or maledictions. These in no way improve their stressful situation.
How about those who curse just to feel good? For them, cursing has become a tranquilizer; like a drug to ease off stress, tension and anxiety. When they feel bad about anything or anybody, they curse. They think they are just blowing off steam, but they’re actually cultivating a very bad habit.
Wouldn’t it be better—in these less than tranquil situations—to say a word of blessing? Of course it would. Bless your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt. 5:44). Bless! Don’t curse. Even when your mother, father, husband, wife, child, sibling, friend, neighbor or a troublemaker gets on your nerves, bless them, don’t curse.
When your employer stands in your way, or a supervisor fails to show appreciation for your work and services, bless, don’t curse. When your children don’t show respect for your age and experience, bless, don’t curse.
The fact is bad language is a trait of worldliness, the undesirable fruit of lack of self-control, which manifests itself in various dark forms and shades. It can be through misusing God’s name—blasphemy, swearing, profanity—and foul language (vulgarity). It includes cursing and the use of four-letter words which all have something in common—they demonstrate blatant indecency in speech and contempt of the person addressed.
When bad language is used in direct relation to God or sacred realities, it is blasphemous. It is a grave sin because it directly attacks and dishonors the name of God, or the Holy Names and, by that fact, directly dishonors our loving God (cf. CCC 2148). And when used in relation to our fellow human beings, it is a sin against charity.
So do not be too quick to use bad language, curse or swear. If you find yourself doing so, my friend, you have some praying to do. Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind and my humble suggestion is, don’t dismiss it with, ‘it’s just a bad habit.’ It is much more than just a habit and shows how much “dirty junk” the mind has been fed and how much has been allowed in.
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45).
When our hearts and minds are pure, they generate pure thoughts and words, but when they are not, bad language can be one of the vices; this is a sinful default. As a missionary, I have yet to see anyone prone to bad language who does not have challenges with a healthy moral life.
Wry jokes in poor taste such as, “I can’t stand cursing, it sounds like hell!” are immediately put into a sober perspective when we understand the words of Jesus:
“But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the Day of Judgment” (Mt. 12:36 Douay-Rheims Bible).
And yet, we must consider the possibility that hell may be plagued with an endless stream of profanity. Cursing may sound like hell more than people realize.
Scripture and the Church’s Sacred Tradition condemn bad language in all its forms. “Thou shalt not use the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exod. 20:7).” The second commandment forbids the abuse of God‘s name, i.e. every improper use of the names of God, Jesus Christ, but also of the Virgin Mary and all the saints” (CCC 2146).
Scripture reminds us to respect God’s Holy name: “Let not your mouth form the habit of swearing, or becoming too familiar with the Holy Name…[O]ne who swears continually by the Holy Name will not remain free from sin” (Sir. 23:9).
In this perspective, may everyone become advocates, if you will, of the Holy Name Society!
(Culled from my book, Word For A Wounded World, Vol. 1, pp. 108-110)