Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
A term was used quite frequently several years ago which represented a gold standard for evaluating the character of an individual. The term is to refer to someone as a “God-fearing person.” The term indicated that this person would not offend God through sin or deception and if they gave you their word, you could count on it. As our society moves away from an explicit belief in God, references to God become meaningless for many people. In a court of law, the oath is administered with the incitement, “So help you, God!” Unless a person is God-fearing, the truth becomes self-serving and tempered by the possibility of perjury, rather than eternal condemnation.
It was not long ago that the slang use of the word God in conversation was discouraged and even treated as offensive. Of course, the use of damning someone before God was the ultimate profanity. Now, the expression “God damn” is often used to express disappointment or frustration. I also notice that in letters from Confirmation candidates, many of the candidates failed to capitalize the word God when expressing their spiritual sentiments. The former Bishop of Superior, Bishop Peter Christensen, now the Bishop of Boise, Idaho, was so frustrated by the students’ use of the small “g” that he had buttons made with the word god and the small g underlined. An underlined letter is an editor’s notation that this letter should be capitalized.
You might think that I am just being picky, looking at language or the use of an expression of God. However, it appears to me that these uses indicate a greater lack of appreciation for the sacred in our society. The mundane swallows up God. The expression of God is no more or less important than anything else we may value.
We stand behind the words that we express. When we say, “God bless you,” is it just a habitual response to a sneeze or a substitute for saying thanks? Or, are we entrusting that person’s well-being to God or asking God’s blessings for a person’s assistance?
I realize that there will not be a massive movement to recover the sacredness of the word God in language. However, we can challenge ourselves in guarding our use of “God.” It can begin with us. We can be an example to our family and friends. If you say, “God bless you,” mean it and express it as a prayer. Your sincerity may invoke curiosity, perhaps inviting others to think about the sacredness of “God” in their own conversations.
One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit celebrated at Confirmation is “fear of the Lord.” This gift is not the fear of punishment, although God can exact punishment whenever He should so choose. Rather, the gift is an awareness of any action that would separate us from God, for we know that we cannot be happy apart from God. We should seek to be “God-fearing,” rejecting anything that keeps us away from a loving God. It is a God-fearing person who knows that he or she must LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the November 3, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.