Change Our Words, Change Our Love

Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 20:1-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments: "I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments. "You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished the one who takes his name in vain. "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. "Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him."

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

John 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]

Let’s talk about the sins of cursing, profanity, and vulgarity.

Most of us (not all, but most) would agree that such language is generally wrong. None of you swears around me. How would you feel if I swore? There’s a video by Jimmy Kimmel asking if children know any naughty words, and it’s insightful regarding our society: On one hand, the crowd cheers when a boy swears; on the other, they’re shocked when another boy uses a very disparaging word ( So, there’s a tension: We feel vulgar language isn’t right, but it’s not that bad.

For me, the key motivation to eliminate all vulgar language from my vocabulary came when a man here asked if Jesus would use such language. Previously, I held that vulgar language would be acceptable to describe a horrendous situation. For example, there’s a tragic murder, and so expressing our shock with, let’s say, the F-bomb, would be justified. But then I realized: Jesus didn’t do this, even on the Cross.

Many of us still use poor language because: 1) We haven’t really thought about it; 2) Almost everyone does it; 3) It’s the culture of our friends or workplace; 4) It’s a habit; 5) It’s not that bad; 6) As long as young children don’t hear, it’s okay.

The First Reading gives us the Ten Commandments. The Second reads, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name” (Ex 20:7). The Catechism teaches this means respect for God’s name. To make fun of someone’s name is to make fun of them. God reveals His name in Scripture to those who believe in and love Him. Think about that: Some of our friends who believe in God don’t know His name. In Exodus, God tells us that His name is, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14), because He is existence itself. And when He became man, He took another name, Jesus. The Catechism says, “‘The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it” (2143).

So, saying things like, “Oh my God,” or using Jesus’ name flippantly, as we often hear in movies, is wrong, and is a venial sin. However, the reliable moral theologian, Germain Grisez, says that the casual use of God’s name is not blasphemy, but irreverence. Most people, when they misuse His name, don’t mean to insult Him, which is why it’s venial. If we were to try deliberately to insult God or speak words of hatred towards Him, that would be grave matter (Germain Grisez, Living a Christian Life, 67).

In the same way, cursing other people, as in saying, “Go to hell!” without really meaning it, is venial. And vulgar language, the words that videos often bleep out, is venial.

Now look at the Gospel, please, and consider three further points about respect for God. Jesus goes to the Temple, sees people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and exchanging money. He makes a whip of cords, drives out the people and the animals, and flips tables. Why?

First, He says, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (Jn 2:16). The Temple was a place to worship God, and the larger Court of the Gentiles, shown here (, was the place where non-Jewish people could pray to the one true God—this was where people were buying and selling animals! Jesus was furious because His own people were showing no respect for the place where all the nations were invited to come and pray. He says in St. Mark’s Gospel, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?” (11:17). Based on these words, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the fundamental purpose for Jesus’ cleansing the Temple was to remove obstacles to the worship of God (Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, 18).

So, is our language impeding others from coming to God? When we swear, we are impeding evangelization, that is, some people coming to know Jesus, because they can see our hypocrisy. If we’re rude in our texts, emails, or posts, people see that we don’t live by a higher standard. Many of us come from cultures where it’s normal to say, “Oh God!” but people will see it’s not important to us. The people on our 11:02 prayer cards need us to speak better. I’d encourage you to think about doing the 11:02 prayer again as we get ready for Alpha after Easter on April 25.

Second, right after Jesus gives this explanation, the Gospel records, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (Jn 2:17). Pope Benedict says that when we’re zealous for God, it leads to isolation (22). If we choose not to swear, we will be different. Sometimes it seems that only weak people, that is, goody two shoes don’t swear because they can’t handle anything unpleasant. But real strength comes from doing what’s right, even when everyone else does differently, and not cowering in front of other people who swear. So, be a saint, and don’t be intimidated by those who swear. If you stay strong, people will respect you for it.

Third, Pope Benedict points out that zeal means self-giving love. For me, this is the most beautiful part of today’s reflection. If we’re zealous for God, our words will change. What if we were only allowed to speak when it was good for other people, that is, words of affirmation, encouragement, or even challenge? Language and love go together. When language changes, love changes.

Here’s our simple challenge today: How should our language improve?

As we’re still in our Lenten desert experience, let’s end with quotes about three desert fathers, men in Egypt from the second to fourth centuries who completely abandoned the world to follow Christ, and went to extremes to purify their hearts, including guarding everything that came out of their mouths. 1) St. Pambo said, “By the grace of God, since I have left the world, I have not said one word of which I repented afterwards.” 2) Abba Anoub said, “Since the day when the name of Christ was invoked upon me, no lie has come out of my mouth.” 3) And it was said of Abba Or that “he never lied, nor swore, nor hurt anyone, nor spoke without necessity” (Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert, 146). Change our words, change our love.

Source: The JustMeasure – Change Our Words, Change Our Love (

Posted: March 7, 2021

Fr. Justin Huang

Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.

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