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Mike Taylor wrote:

Hi, guys —

I've recently come back to the Church . . . gone to Confession, and have started receiving Communion again which is great but one thing I have noticed is my swearing. Profanity is still an issue with me.

I am praying for help in that battle . . . staying close to Mary. I'm finding this largely happens without me ever thinking about it. Because it is something I am just used to doing, I'm guessing it would be a venial sin.

That said,

  • Should I be going to Confession before my next Communion or continue praying to turn my life around . . . staying close to Mary?

Mike Taylor

  { Should I go to Confession before my next Communion if I am still struggling with profanity? }

Eric replied:

Dear Mike,

Wonderful news that you've come back to the faith and made a decision to follow the Lord!

There are different levels of what we're talking about, and people often use imprecise language.

When the Church uses the term profanity it primarily has in mind language making the sacred profane — like the name of Our Lord, God, the names of the saints, etc. When we use these names — or use words associated with them, like the blood of Christ or the Blessed Sacrament — in an insincere and disrespectful manner rather than in a prayerful manner, we are profaning them. It's one thing to cry out in heartfelt prayer to the name of Jesus when something frustrating happens; quite another to reflexively spit out his name with no devotion whatsoever. When done fully deliberately, it is mortally sinful, but I seriously doubt you meet this level since you have a bad habit and want desperately to be rid of it. Most people — at least in North American Anglophone culture — use such language out of frustration without even realizing:

  • it is a profanation as such or
  • intending to profane anything.

It's just a bad habit that is caught.

This is distinguished from vulgarity and foul language — using excretory language, most kinds of swearing commonly so-called, etc. This is gutter language and undignified and ungentlemanly, but not mortally sinful and not what the Church means by profanity (although one might argue the F-word is, in a sense, a profanation of the sacrament of marriage). Even St. Paul uses some strong words in Scripture.

That's not to say you shouldn't expend effort to control or eradicate it. I would bring it up in your devotional Confession (in particular any profanity) and ask the priest for his advice on it, but I doubt you need to abstain from receiving Communion and head forthwith to Confession. We aren't priests here so for solid pastoral advice, I'd ask your Confessor who knows you better anyway. If you pursue the virtues of self-control, patience, and equanimity, perhaps swearing from frustration will decrease.

If you're tempted to use the Lord's name in vain, try to catch it and turn it into a prayer. Make it a habit to pray when you are frustrated rather than use vulgarity or profanity. Also try to limit your contact with people who use such language, or request that they watch it. It is very easy to pick up by osmosis. I put up a semi-humorous sign in my cube at work to this effect. It helped. Of course, there is always the old standby of editing words as they come out — like saying fu(dge) as another word starts to come out. Even a nonsense word is OK.

Maybe my colleagues will chime in with tips.

God bless your journey!

Eric

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