How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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The Gift of God’s Name
By Kathy Coffey

Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

If we see this commandment merely as a warning, “Don’t swear,” we miss its richness. Most people could name far greater evils than the occasional curse when we’re angry or frustrated. So we wrongly dismiss the commandment as a quaint relic of more polite times. This is where background from Scripture scholars comes in handy.

Numerous law codes preceded Israel’s. What makes the Ten Commandments distinct and so enduring that they set standards for people centuries later, all around the world?

Among Israel’s neighbors, the divine name was often used in curses or magical formulas. In ancient Egypt, some believed that invoking the name of God was an effective weapon.

We may smile at the primitive notion—until we remember how many modern wars have been fought in God’s name. Both sides of a conflict create God in their own image, then invoke God’s power to destroy the enemy. They forget that all human beings are God’s beloved children, carefully crafted and intimately known. Killing even one human, regardless of the cause we may think righteous, is an affront to God.

This commandment introduces another kind of reverence, a different respect which would enrich our days if we lived it out. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that God revealed God’s name only to those who believed in God’s personal mystery. “The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy....The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it” (#2143, 2158).


Strangers No More

Think of those we call “Sir” or “Miss.” Clearly they are strangers; we have no connection to them. We may want to call their attention to a wallet they dropped or a task we want done. The emphasis is on the transaction, not the personal relationship. If, over time, “Sir” or “Miss” becomes “Adrian” or “Molly,” it signals a shift: The stranger has become an acquaintance or friend. Calling someone by name commands the person’s attention. If a solicitor bungles our name, we are immediately skeptical.

By revealing God’s name, God steps off the Distant Deity pedestal and comes close enough for friendship. Knowing God’s name is a gift we shouldn’t take lightly. It means that God is involved at the most intimate level of our daily life; nothing we do is foreign or strange to God.

What is true for God is also true for human beings. “God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred” (CCC, #2158). Throughout the Bible, the name contains God’s dream for the person. When Abram and Sarai’s names changed, their identity shifted. Abraham and Sarah were fuller, better people, confident that God was with them. In the same way, God reassures us with words that should bring confidence in the worst circumstances: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). In the New Testament, Jesus knows us intimately, by name. “Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name…” (John 10:2-3). When Jesus calls Mary’s name in the garden after his resurrection, it is the pivotal turning point in human history. Before that moment, no one had risen from death. The entire, earth-shaking story of Jesus’ triumph is contained in the two syllables of Mary’s name.

Revering God’s Creation

The Catechism, furthermore, says the Second Commandment included blaspheming against places or people holy to God. Such a wise guideline establishes an attitude of reverence for all creation, made by God’s hand and blessed by God’s care. When we destroy forests, pollute air and water, or ignore environmental safeguards, we show grave disrespect for God’s holy works. So too, when we malign God’s beloved creatures, we slur God’s holy name.

Remember someone calling your name softly, with depth and affection. Or your name being announced as winner of an award. Or a beloved voice on the phone, speaking your name. We should weave those warm associations around God’s name. And with such pride, love gentling every syllable, God calls our names. Knowing that, how could we blaspheme God—or each other?

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is Women of Mercy (Orbis, 2005).

Next: The Third Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• What is your favorite name for God? What significance does this name have for you?

• How can you show more respect for God’s name at home or in your workplace?

God Is Good
By Judith Dunlap

I recently heard my oldest grandson start to exclaim, “God…” and quickly change the exclamation to “Gosh!” It took me back a generation to the day I shocked his father when he was about the same age and told him I would rather hear him utter a vulgarity than use the word God so casually. He had probably said something as seemingly benign as, “God, I wish I had his brains.” (We both knew he was not uttering a prayer to his Maker.) I’m sure my words caught his attention because he knew how much I detested hearing people sprinkle their comments with crude exclamations.

I might sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but it’s always been a “thing” with me. I know people will argue that the word God as an exclamation is rarely used in a disparaging way. “It’s used generically, strictly lower case (god). It’s a figure of speech, a colloquialism that means nothing,” they’ll often say. And I would agree with them, but it still bothers me.

How sad that God has become lower case and generic. How troubling that “God,” a wonderfully ecumenical reference to the Supreme Being, is invoked so often and yet means nothing. Is it a sin against the Second Commandment to use God’s name that way?

It may not be a personal sin, but it certainly should qualify as a sin of our society. In any case, it’s up to us to change things.

When I hear a person use “God” in a less-than-reverent way (or even worse, “Jesus Christ”), I finish the exclamation with a prayer, “God is good,” or “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever.” I even say it out loud sometimes with a gentle smile, especially if I’m on comfortable terms with the person who said it. Whatever the social pressures, the least we can do is watch our own speech patterns and gently show our children how to be more reverent when using God’s name.

For Family Response:

As a family read the comments above and discuss your response.

Media Watch
Rocky Balboa
By Frank Frost

I wasn’t prepared to be so taken by a new Rocky movie. Where I expected a formulaic story about an overworked franchise character I found a moving, nuanced exploration of a man looking for meaning in later life, a man who happens to be a boxer. This coming-of-age movie (for Rocky and several other characters) explores issues of aging, father-son relationships, self-acceptance, determination in the face of overwhelming odds, and the meaning of love, among other things.

The movie begins with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) visiting the grave of his wife. There is a hole in his life that is not filled by the successful restaurant he owns and the old boxing stories he tells to please his customers. He visits his old haunts with his brother-in-law and closest friend, Paulie (Burt Young), until Paulie insists that Rocky stop living in the past and move forward. Rocky acknowledges he has a beast inside, and decides to take it on in the only way he knows how. He applies once again for a boxing license. When the boxing commission turns him down, he argues forcefully that a person should not be denied the chance to use his talents, whatever they are.

It’s a tribute to Stallone’s writing and acting (he also directed) that we believe that Rocky, now in his late 50s, can credibly take up boxing again, even on a limited scale. And then that the media can transform a computerized matchup between Rocky and the current heavyweight champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) into an actual exhibition match.

But the movie’s not really about that fight. It’s about Rocky’s inner fight for dignity and value and meaning. It’s about a web of relationships that Rocky wrestles with—especially with his son, Bob (Milo Ventimiglia), who wants nothing to do with him, and “Little Marie” (Geraldine Hughes), a struggling single mother he once knew as a little girl and who he is now attracted to.

Rocky in his later years has become a philosopher and an altruist. His son bitterly complains that he is trapped in his father’s shadow, and that Rocky’s foolish attempt to fight again will only make him a laughingstock. Rocky’s loving response does not yield to pity; instead, he urges Bob to look inside and to be who he is. Life, he tells his son, is not about how hard you can hit but how hard you can be hit and still get up.

Rocky’s relationship with Little Marie reveals ambivalence between his desire to help her find her feet and a blossoming romantic attachment. He takes Marie’s son under his wing and offers her a job in his restaurant. When he doubts himself for attempting to enter the ring again, Little Marie is the one who urges him to risk being who he is.

After a punishing fight, Rocky leaves the ring before learning whether or not he’s won, because just by surviving the bout he has already won the only fight he cares about.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

Blessed Fra Angelico (1395?-1455)

Growing up in a village overlooking Florence, young Guido de Piero showed an early interest in painting. He studied under the watchful eye of a local master and, around age 20, joined the Dominicans. Though he took the name Fra Giovanni, he soon came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities as well as the devotional tone of his works.

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, generous, lifelike figures and vivid colors. Though he was ordained a priest, his call was to painting. As stunning and technically perfect as his paintings were, Fra Angelico’s goal was to bring out religious devotion in those who viewed them. They were as much prayers as paintings.

He came to be one of the most influential painters of the Italian Renaissance. Among his most famous frescoes are the Annunciation and the Descent from the Cross, which hang in the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence. The scenes from the lives of Mary and Christ also include many Dominican saints. The figures are dressed in contemporary clothes and set in familiar backgrounds, reminding the viewer of the ongoing drama of redemption and the presence of Christ.

In 1445, Pope Eugenius asked Fra Angelico to paint frescoes in two chapels in Rome. The Holy Father was so pleased with the finished work that he offered to make the artist archbishop of Florence. The humble friar declined.

Fra Angelico died and is buried in Rome. At his beatification in 1982, Pope John Paul II named him patron of artists. His feast day is February 18.

Marek Czarnecki

Forget what Merriam Webster’s says about icons: “conventional religious images typically painted on a small wooden panel and used in devotions of Eastern Christians.” There’s nothing conventional about them. Just ask Marek Czarnecki, 42, of Bristol, Connecticut.

The son of Polish immigrants whose faith sustained them during World War II, Marek shares his faith by creating icons of Mary and Jesus and of saints such as Maximilan Kolbe and Faustina Kowalska. “I love who the icons represent,” Marek told Every Day Catholic. “They are real, living people. I love the vision of the icon—how the world will look when everything is made whole in Christ. I love the icon’s immediacy and apparent beauty.”

He begins the process of creating an icon with the Jesus prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Throughout the process—actually called “writing” because every word or element fits concisely into the whole—he continues to pray. When it is completed, he prays in thanksgiving.

Drawn to religious art from his childhood, Marek devoured the art history books his older sister brought him from the library each week. Later he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York on scholarship. He began studying iconography on his own, then under various teachers.

Religious art, he confessed, “is all I care about,” though it doesn’t offer him a comfortable living. “I just get by.” But his faith and art can’t be separated. “Everyone thinks religious art is such a tiny niche to work inside. It’s exactly the opposite. It shows me the deepest of all possible worlds and connects me to the heroes of the Church.”

Hardly a “bad” living.

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