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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Fraternal Correction & Blasphemy

by Catherine Frakas 06 May 2001

Fraternal Correction & Blasphemy QUESTION from Steve Street August 30, 2001 Dear Bro. Ignatius,
Dozens of times a day I hear people speaking blasphemously - on the bus, at work, in shops, in the street and at home. Mostly it is the phrase O my God (not used in a prayerful way!) - largely said without thought or any intention to blaspheme.
What is our duty of fraternal correction in this situation? I try always to make a tut sound or hrrmph but people often don't seem to notice and if they do I'm not sure they get it.
I would like to be more assertive but find it terribly difficult. I then always feel scared that I may have committed a mortal sin by failing to give correction (I suffer from scruples) and worry about whether I can receive communion.
As I mentioned, this can happen dozens of times each day! This issue is robbing me of peace but I can't seem to find any answer to it - one good Catholic who I trust a lot suggested that since God is a generic word not a proper name like Jesus, the sin is probably venial and there is no duty of correction. I'm not sure though.
What advice can you give?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on August 29, 2001 Dear Mr. Street:
It is unfortunate that such blashpemy as become a norm in our culture. Even most Catholics blaspheme in this way with phrases such as O my God or Jesus, Joseph, and Mary all used outside the context of any prayerful utterance.
The Church requires us to speak out when we see sin WHEN WE ARE IN POSITION to, and have an OBLIGATION to speak out. It is impractical to correct 40 people on a bus, or everyone on the street that passes us by. If we did that, he would never get any work done.
In other words, it is not your personal and singular responsibilty to correct everyone you see. If you were walking down the street in New York City and did this, it would take you three years to walk one block!
But when we have an opportunity, such as when the subject of language comes up at work, Church, or with friends or strangers, we can take the opening to point our the inappropriateness of such language as the Holy Spirit directs. Or maybe there can be an opportunity to start a conversation on language in which we can include these points if the Holy Spirit directs.
We have a brotherly obligation, however, to our friends, a paterfamilias obligation toward our family, and a general brotherly obligation to the brotherhood of Christians toward other Christians, to make an effort at fraternal correction as the opportunity presents itself.
But do not beat yourself up because you don't mention something to every person who passes you by. That is just not practical.
Discuss it whenever the opportunity arises, otherwise pray for those who do not know what they do.
P.S. Your friend is wrong about the use of the word God. Using the word God in vain is also a sin.
By the way, failure to correct people on this is NOT mortal sin to begin with, so whether you do it or don't do it, you are not in mortal sin. This is an issue of venial sin in most instances.
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