Homily no. 34 – ‘2nd & 3rd Commandments’ (CCC 2142–95)

Ss Peter & Paul (Hanworth)

Ss Peter & Paul (Hanworth) (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

This feast of SS Peter & Paul today recalls for us the fact that, after some 30 years of ministry, each, in spreading the Gospel, both St Peter and then St Paul were put to death cruelly in Rome, a few years apart in the 60s of the 1st c.  Celebrating their feast, their witness to the very last moment, the shedding of their blood as martyrs of the Lord, surely makes us tremble in some way … tremble to know that ordinary men, inspired by the Gospel, taken hold of by their love for the Lord, would give their whole lives, and would lay down their lives, for Him.

The 2nd and 3rd of the Ten Commandments are there for us to adhere to the intention and word of God with all the desire and fervour that St Peter and St Paul did, trembling before the holiness of God.  We should keep His name holy, not misusing His name in anger or as expletive (2nd Comm.); and we should keep the Lord’s Day holy, keeping Sunday special in the ways that the Church sets out (3rd. Comm.).  We should not be half-hearted in our keeping of these commandments — we should long to keep them with all the strength of our faith.

The 2nd Commandment asks us, then, to use the Holy Name of the Lord in its proper way only, that is, for prayer and supplication, and never as a swear word or throw-away comment or angry outburst.  Sadly … very sadly … the use of the Holy Names — Lord, God, Jesus, Christ — are in use around us in society in just the sort of wrong ways that the 2nd Commandment states as unacceptable.  It is an offence to the Christian ear to hear Our Lord’s Name ‘taken in vain.’  Even the ubiquitous “Oh my God” (or ‘OMG’ as it’s often reduced to) is not acceptable a way to treat God’s Name.  His Name is for prayer, a Name we should love and respect above all others … A Name whose use we should cultivate only for its proper use.  If we are guilty of using God’s Name in vain, then we should makes efforts, and adopt strategies, to change our sinful habit.  No Christian should be habitually using the names, “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Oh my God …” etc. in a careless way, or as a swear word.  This goes completely against our faith in the supreme holiness of God.  What would anyone else think of our stated love for God, if what they hear us saying is a blasphemous use of God’s Holy Name?  What sort of a Christian will they think we are?  Aren’t they likely to think we don’t in fact care for, or believe, in God’s holiness?  It is vitally important, then, that we are clean in our language, and above all that we never use His Name for anything other than its correct and prayerful use.

The 3rd Commandment is likewise drawn from the devotion and love we owe to Almighty God.  The Jews were commanded, in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy.”  Christians chose to keep their holy day no longer as the Sabbath (the Saturday) but as Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead.  So Sunday is for us the day of rest, and the day of prayer.  It is the day when we are obliged to come to Sunday Mass, whether that is taken on the vigil (the Saturday evening) or on Sunday itself.  We cannot keep the 3rd Commandment if we are not attending Sunday Mass on a weekly basis.  Of course there are some exceptions, which are obvious: if we are sick, or is we have to care for a sick person; or if we are prevented by frailty or excessive distance from a church; or if we are truly having to work Saturday evening and all of Sunday in a vital service, such as nursing or policing — but in general work should not prevent us from coming to Mass; certainly not work that we voluntarily do that clashes with Sunday Mass.  If we have children taking part in Sunday sports or other activities, we must still make sure that they, and we, get to Sunday Mass by arranging our weekend around our getting to Mass.  Any and every child from at least year 3, and preferably before, should be brought to Mass every week without exception.  What I fear, sometimes, is that families come to Mass only when nothing else happens to get in the way that weekend — this is not right … the centre-piece of our weekend must be expressed by our love for the Lord in coming to be with Him here, as He offers His life for us on the altar.  To be true Catholics — to be not committing frequent grave sin — is to be committed to Mass on Sundays and holydays.  There should be no excuses, but a concerted effort on our part to come and worship the Lord as He would wish, every single Sunday, and to explain tirelessly to those who have drifted away, that the Lord deeply desires them to be here.  One cannot have a life of personal relationship with Jesus to the extent that He wants if one is not coming to be with Him, to be present at His Sacrifice, and to receive Him devoutly in Holy Communion.  Those who choose to stay away are starving themselves of Our Lord, risking their eternal salvation, chancing their lives without the Lord who loves them.

Sunday, too, should be deliberately kept as a day of rest and recreation.  We should avoid shopping, cleaning, working, homework … as far as possible; and should give this Sacred Day over to prayer and family.  We are each sorely in need of our relationships with God and with each other.  Sunday is the crucial day for this, the Christian holy day: let’s be determined to keep Sunday special in our homes and families, to the glory of our loving God. He made us, and He knows how much we need Sunday for our health and Salvation.  Let’s not despise such a great gift, this weekly day of divine rest and blessing.

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About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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