Homilette for Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 5:9-12)

We have all seen enactments of court witnesses taking an oath. The attendant holds a Bible on which the witness places her left hand. He then asks her, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?” When the witness responds, “I do,” is she defying the command we find in today’s reading from James, “...do not swear,
either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath”?

Actually the Scripture basis forbidding the taking of oaths runs deeper than the Letter of James. Jesus tells his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “...’I say to you, Do not swear at all....Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one’” (Mt 5:34). When a Christian takes an oath then using the words “so help me, God,” like the new President will likely do in January, it seems to be a sinful matter.

The Church, however, which is the official interpreter of Scripture, has judged to the contrary. The Catechism explains that we follow a tradition found in St. Paul’s letters that permits oaths invoking God for serious reasons (cf. #2154). Nevertheless, today’s reading from the Letter of James and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount should remind us not to use God’s name frivolously. Too often people say “O my God,” “God, help me,” and even the curse “God damn” without respect for the holiness of God’s name. We should no more use that name lightly, indeed we should use it much less, than we would flippantly toss about our mother’s name. On the other hand, we should call upon it without hesitation when we are in legitimate need of God’s help.