“Oh my God!” What’s wrong with saying that?
On Aug. 14, 1941, in a lonely, dark starvation bunker in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, a Catholic priest named Father Maximilian Kolbe died. After a prisoner escaped, the Nazis had chosen 10 men to die in a starvation bunker to deter future escape attempts. One of the men chosen cried out, “My wife! My children!” and Father Kolbe stepped forward and exchanged his life for the man’s life.
With absolutely no worldly power, in one of darkest and most evil places in the world, Father Kolbe died a free man. Not because he could do whatever he wanted — that is a false and weak understanding of true freedom. He was free because he had the capacity to do what he ought, what no one else had the courage to do. Father Kolbe was canonized a saint in 1982. The man whose place he took that day in Auschwitz survived the Holocaust and came to his canonization in Rome.
Today, we live in a culture that, for the most part proclaims, “Do whatever you want!” What this says implicitly is that nothing really matters. To live as a Catholic is the exact opposite — everything matters. By the grace of your baptism, you bring Jesus to the world, everything you do and everything you say matters, because whether we like it or not, what people think of us is what they think of Jesus. This isn’t easy, but it is good news. Our lives, no matter how ordinary, mean more than we can ever imagine.
Here is one way (of many!) we can live out this responsibility. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Ever. You may ask what is wrong with saying, “Oh my God!” or dropping a “Jesus Christ!” every now and then. What is the big deal with that? There are lots of reasons. I will give three: 1) The Commandments of God and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2146) tell us that it is sinful. 2) You would not use the name of the person you respect and love most in that way. 3) You are made for more than that. Do not believe the lie that what you say does not matter. Your words and actions matter because you matter.
I love writing about this topic, because it is important, and it is completely up to you how to respond. No doubt someone we’ll read this and think that “Saying ‘Oh my God’ isn’t that big of a deal; I can say whatever I want.” Take a lesson from St. Maximilian Kolbe on true freedom. Have the courage to live and speak as you ought, because what you say and what you do matters. You matter.
Father Rob Johnson is pastor at Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Maryville, chaplain of the Newman Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and is an associate director for the Office for Vocations for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.