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Lent, Language and Holiness Print E-mail

March 23, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 47 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY

Every year Pope Benedict sends us a letter for our Lenten reading and reflection. This year he focuses on baptism, the universal sacrament of salvation by which we are immersed into the font of life to die with Christ and emerge as newborn sons and daughters of God, freed from sin and members of the community of communion which is the Church of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict traces this rich and beautiful theme through the Sundays of Lent up to the Sacred Triduum. You may find the full text at the Vatican website, It is well worth reading and can provide you with a guide to each Sunday of Lent that will lead you to a deeper grasp of the sacred texts of the Sunday Lenten Masses.

We can never overestimate the extraordinariness of what God has done in us through the saving waters of baptism. It is the sacrament of salvation. We are rescued from the darkness of a human life that cannot escape the tyranny of sin and death to become one with the saints in light, the light that is the gift of Christ’s life. We are thus transformed into members of His Body, the Church thus making us members of a priestly people who in turn are called to bring that light into the world. Week by week this Lent, the light of Christ becomes brighter and brighter and, at each step of the way, the meaning of our baptism becomes ever more luminous. Time and again the great cry of Pope St. Leo the Great can resound in our ears and in our hearts, Christian, Recognize your dignity. That dignity we did not confer upon ourselves. It can and does come only from the Son of God who became one of us so that we could become, through His death and resurrection, true sharers in His life, adopted sons and daughters of God, and thus one with the saints who are destined for eternal life.

With the beauty of what has been gratuitously given to us, we accept to live what has been given, to be faithful to what we have received and to “walk according to the light.” Because the gift is so extraordinary, the fruits of such a gift should be at the center of who we are and how we live. And here is where we are given each year the “joyful season,” the holy season of Lent. “This is the time of salvation!” This is the special time given to us by and through the Church which is herself the holy vessel of God’s plan of salvation. Only within the Church, the holy bride of Christ, can we be confident to receive the means to live this life, the strength to be faithful, the support of sacraments and virtues that culminate in the Eucharist through which we live the Church’s liturgical year.

On the lips of us all there should be only words that build up, not words that tear down. Yet you and I are so much aware that the society in which we live has become coarser and coarser in its language and in the ways people speak to one another. This does not happen because one group or another has forced this on us. True, there are songs today whose very titles cannot be published in the daily press. True, films can be a source of scandal and often contribute to the idea that the coarser our language and the more strident our voice the more we are “cool” or whatever else someone might call it. And especially true, that television subjects us to sitcoms with every kind of language insulting other persons, ridiculing religious and ethnic groups, and shouting and screaming at one another, all as part of “ordinary daily entertainment.”

And at that point you and I are faced with a decision. Will we participate or not? Will we “go along” with a society in which ridicule of others is the norm, in which shouting and insults are common, in which the bluer our language the more admired we can expect to be? Or will we choose to speak with respect to others? Will we honor others by not using language that runs the gamut from vulgar and foul to blasphemous and scandalous?

This is commonplace in our society. Unfortunately it has become too commonplace in our Church today. And it is just as unacceptable for a Catholic today as it was when we were first taught it was wrong. It is wrong. And it easily leads from “wrong” to sinful. Blasphemy, the profane misuse of the name of God, of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is as sinful today as it has ever been. The only difference is not in the Church’s teaching. The difference is in the ease with which we do this and excuse ourselves!

Blasphemy against God and insulting language about Mary, the angels and saints may seem trivial but they are not. They set the stage for how we speak of and to one another. How often have Catholics become accustomed to speak of the Church as though she is some kind of merely human institution, invented by us or simply another political or social “power” force that I am free to mock and ridicule and dismiss? Too many Catholics do this too often. How often do Catholics insult the very Church that has given them life. How easy it is to make fun of others in the Church. How common it has become to make jokes about good priests. How used have we become to treating bishops and even the Holy Father as some sort of despot with no sense of the inner bond that our common baptism has forged to make us into a community of communion. When we ridicule one another, when we speak ill of one another, when we dismiss one another with harmful or hurtful words, we are not speaking as Christ would have us speak. We are not following St. Paul who told us to use “only helpful words, only words that build up” the Church and her members.

This is not a call to deny the truth. This is not an attempt to overlook the sins of the past and present. We must acknowledge these because they have been, are and always will be part of the life of the Church. And we must always be ready to confess and repent. We also must be ready to forgive and be reconciled. All that being true, we still have a responsibility to take care not to use language that undermines human dignity, that destroys the reputation of others, that tears down the Church and her members whoever they are and whatever their respective roles and responsibilities are in the Church.

In this Lent, we could with honesty and humility examine our own consciences to see that we not use language to blaspheme God or to slander others, to hurt or even to calumniate our brothers and sisters. May this Lent be truly a beautiful and holy season in which we come closer to God by coming closer to one another.

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