Is it a mortal sin, a blasphemy, to say “Oh, my God!”?
The second Commandment prescribes that we must not take the name of the Lord “in vain”—that is, that we must not use His name in an empty, worthless way, for no good purpose. The precept demands respect for the Lord’s name and forbids every improper use of it. In practice, this means that we must not introduce the divine Name into our own speech except to bless, praise and glorify it. We should abstain from blasphemy, that is, from any words or expressions that imply contempt or hatred, reproach or defiance of God. Moreover, we should not make promises casually invoking God’s name, and neither should we take oaths that misuse His name.
Unfortunately, in our daily speech, the name of God is frequently used for the most trivial matters, either as a spontaneous exclamation when we are surprised, or casually invoked in proof of almost everything. The habitual, unthinking and careless use of God’s name is certainly a lack of respect towards Him and, as such, a venial sin, but it is not a blasphemy, even when it is used to express negative feelings, as long as it is without hostility towards God, without any thought of dishonor to God or any intent to detract from His goodness.
However, in some circumstances, when we are startled or shocked by some unexpected event, for example, if we happen to witness a terrible accident or when we receive unexpected joyful news, the use of this expression could be an act of religion—in the examples mentioned, it could become a prayer calling upon God’s help in the midst of a tragedy, or a prayer of thanksgiving for those welcome news. In consequence, the sinfulness or not of this expression will depend on the circumstances and the intention of the person.
Even if most people use this expression spontaneously, without any thought of disrespect towards God, it is still an unnecessary, irreverent use of His name. If we have acquired this habit, we must strive to overcome it.
Many spiritual authors recommend the “practice of the presence of God.” What is it? How is it done?
From our Catechism, we have learned that God is everywhere, that He is truly and intimately present to all things. He gives life and preserves all things in existence—nothing could exist or continue to exist without God’s presence. Absolutely nothing escapes His gaze, but all things are open to His eyes. He keeps all things subject to His power: with one word He creates, and with one word He could annihilate what He has created. In this manner, God is present to the soul at all times, in all conditions—even to the soul in the state of mortal sin.
There is also a special type of presence, effected through grace and the operations that flow from grace. God dwells in the soul as a friend, enabling the soul to share in His own divine life. This kind of presence exists only in the souls in the state of grace.
The practice of the presence of God consists in recalling as frequently as possible that God is present in all places, at all times, and consequently doing all things in the sight of God. If a person is convinced that God sees him, he will strive to avoid any sin or imperfection and to be as recollected as possible in God’s presence. Thus, this practice will urge us to avoid even the slightest deliberate fault; it will impel us to do all things with the greatest possible perfection; it will enable us to be modest in our behavior at all times; it will increase our fortitude in the struggles we must face in our Christian life. This practice will keep our souls in a spirit of prayer and lead us to a greater, more intimate union with God.
There are different methods of practicing the presence of God.
One consists in visualizing God as ever watching us from above. We do not see Him, but He is really there and we cannot do anything that escapes His divine gaze. For this, we are aided by the use of crucifixes and religious images placed prominently around us.
Another method is that of interior recollection—that is, to live in an ever-increasing awareness of God’s presence in the soul. It should not be confused with an egoistic introspection, or a mechanical observance of rules of external behavior. Interior recollection is turning our thoughts inward, not to seek ourselves, but to seek God who is present in our souls. It is one of the necessary conditions to develop a spirit of prayer.
Various spiritual authors have proposed other methods, which may be helpful to some people—for example, to see the hand of God in all the events of our lives, either adverse or prosperous; to see God in all the natural wonders that surround us; to see God in our superiors or in our neighbors; etc.
Which are the most ancient extant objects that make reference to the devotion to Our Lady?
By the mid-2nd century, a pilgrim came to Rome, Abercius, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia Salutaris (a big name for a very small town in what is now Turkey). Being an old man, on returning from his long journey he prepared his tomb, with an inscription that is now in the Lateran Museum.
This inscription gives testimony, mostly in veiled terms, not only to the spread of Christianity, to the preeminence of the Roman See, to Baptism and the Eucharist, but it also mentions Our Lady: “Faith everywhere led me forward, and everywhere provided as my food a Fish of exceeding great size, and perfect, which a holy Virgin drew with her hands from a fountain and this faith ever gives to its friends to eat, it having wine of great virtue, and giving it mingled with bread.” The mention of the “Fish” is an acronym for Iesous Christos, Theou Yios, Soter, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” as St. Augustine explains (De Civ. Dei, XVIII: 23), and the Virgin is the one who has brought Christ to us.
From almost a century later, we have a fragment of Egyptian papyrus, in Greek, now in John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK. It is dated from c. 250-280, a period of increasingly violent and methodical persecutions (Valerian, Decius, building up to Diocletian). It contains a version of a prayer we still use, the Sub tuum praesidium: “Under your mercy we take refuge, O Mother of God! Our prayers do not despise in our necessities, but from the danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed.”
Some scholars of a Modernistic or rationalistic leaning, simply because the prayer uses the expression “Mother of God,” have asserted that it could have been written only after the council of Ephesus, in the first half of the 5th century. But paleographic analysis firmly places it in the second half of the 3rd century—that is, almost 200 years before Ephesus and in the same period in which the images of Our Lady were being painted in the Roman catacombs. It expresses the faith of the Church regarding Our Lady, in a simple, succinct way. She is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, “God-bearer,” Deipara, Dei Genetrix, “birth-giver of God.” She has an unheard-of power of intercession—without giving Her yet the title, She is acknowledged as the Mediatrix of all graces. Finally, she is the “only blessed,” especially chosen by God, and She is the “only pure,” perpetually Virgin.