September 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 2

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic

By Fr. Peter Cipriani


Perhaps one of the great scourges of today is the prevalence of profanity in our culture that has become as common as breathing. What I would like to address here is the habitual use of obscene language and not the occasional slippage. There is within the human person perhaps no greater influence than his/her use of words. Words convey meanings, express ideas, motivate and therefore contain incredible influences over peoples and cultures. Words become "bad" or "good" by virtue of their connotation, motive. Who has not had the experience of being deeply wounded by someone's hurtful words or greatly encouraged by words of kindness?

To demonstrate further the incredible value of words, .turn to the first chapter of the Gospel. of John where we read about the Word made Flesh. Jesus is referred to as the Word: the perfect expression and thought of God the Father. Therefore, by virtue of the Incarnation and our own Baptism, that very same Word has taken up residence with the Father and Holy Spirit in our very beings. Having been created in the image and likeness of God, this concept of Word is the driving engine behind and before how we express ourselves as human beings.


Jesus reminds us that it is not what enters into a person from the outside that defiles but that which comes from within one's own heart, and how that heart is expressed in the words we use and the thoughts we convey. Saint Paul reminds us: No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29). Who has not had the experience of cringing at ballgames with children all around because the entirety of a game seems like one long tapestry of cursing. Music and movies are of course notorious for using obscenities, often those having to do with using our Lord's name in vain, a reality as present in society as air.

Saint James provides us with this telling glimpse into the heart of man: "If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also... For every kind of beast and bird... can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing." As Catholic Christians we receive the Word made Flesh in Holy Communion. Christ's very person and essence of Love and light, purity and grace is placed upon our tongues, that very same muscle we use to edify or sadly destroy through lying, gossip and habitual obscene language. Yet society has experienced somewhat of a responsible wake up call and now offers concerned parents what is called the TV guardian which contains a pre-programmed "vocabulary" which filters more than 90% of the profanity contained on a program. As Catholics we have a pre-programmed "vocabulary" as well: The Word Made Flesh we received at Baptism and each time we attend Mass.