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In the Holy Name of Jesus

Last June, I made my First Promise as a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. The First Promise to the local community is for three years, at the end of which (God willing) the community may invite me to make a Definitive Promise, for life. 

Because secular Carmelites are considered to be full members of the Discalced Carmelites, according to their state in life, we are allowed to take a religious name. Ordinarily, candidates use their baptismal name and a favorite devotion. A woman baptized Cecilia who is devoted to the Sacred Heart would be Cecilia of the Sacred Heart. In my class at the local OCDS community, there was some confusion over correct protocol, and we were allowed to choose any name we wished, even double names. By sheer providence, I chose to combine my baptismal name with my favorite Carmelite saint’s name and became Elizabeth Therese of the Holy Name. (I was baptized as an adult, and so I chose my own baptismal name.) Why I chose the Holy Name as my devotion takes a bit more explanation.

I grew up in a mostly secular home. My father, who also grew up in a mostly secular home and did a stint in the Navy, wasn’t shy about using coarse language in front of anyone—man, woman, or child—in hearing distance. My siblings and I picked up his bad habit. My mother did not like hearing the Lord’s name taken in vain, or other vulgarities, but her influence was not sufficient to change the situation. After becoming Catholic, I’ve done my best to be very careful with my own language, but I have to admit that in times of stress I can backslide.

I’ve worked hard over the years to surmount the effects of early secularization, and by the time of my First Promise honestly could say that this is now a rare issue for me. But I figured that I could use the graces that God could offer through devotion to his Holy Name. And I also can honestly say that ever since choosing the Holy Name as a personal devotion my sensitivity to the sanctity of the Holy Name has increased. Grace doesn’t act upon the soul like a magic trick, though, so I fully expect a lifetime of growth in reverence to the Holy Name. (Nota bene: It must be said that blasphemous use of the Holy Name is not the same thing as coarse language and profanity, and the sins don’t have the same weight, but recourse to the Holy Name seemed to be a fine means of cleaning up speech generally.)

Why do I mention this? Recently a Catholic high school in New Jersey invited its female students to take a no-cursing pledge for the month of February. The idea was “to go back to some old fashion values [sic].” The girls loved the idea. The boys felt snubbed that they weren’t asked to participate, so the school opened the pledge to the boys, too. Soon students were trying to outdo each other in how respectful they could be of each other’s sensitivities. Sounds wonderful!

One Catholic blogger didn’t see it that way. Pat Archbold of the National Catholic Register wrote on the story, saying that the “media descended with its charges of sexism and the school quickly relented and opened the pledge up to boys.” The rest of the blog post was devoted to making the case that girls should be held to higher standards than boys because girls must become ladies so that boys can become gentleman.

But isn’t that precisely what happened? The girls took a pledge, made special by little rituals such as a pin given them to wear, and set about to working on their language. They even set up “polite zones,” in which only nice language could be used. The boys felt left out and wanted to prove they could do this, too. So the school opened up the pledge to the boys. In the report I read of the story, there was no mention of outside pressure “forcing” the school to make the pledge “inclusive.”

I was also struck by another assertion by Mr. Archbold. He stated:

I think it is perfectly sensible and reasonable to single out girls for a call to better behavior. Boys will be called to behave like men in their own way, but boys are different than girls. I think that our world and our culture already suffers from the lack of the former benign influence of ladies. Today, we have all too many girls who grow up merely into curvier versions of the vulgar male counterparts.

Setting aside the vulgarity of distinguishing women by a reference to their “curvier” bodies, the fact is that the Holy Name devotion began as a masculine devotion. In 1274, the Council of Lyons called upon the faithful to develop a special devotion to the Holy Name. Dominicans in particular saw this devotion as a valuable tool in the crusade to stamp out Catharism. Devotion to the Holy Name influenced the creation of a Holy Name Society, which for centuries was open only to men. To this day, some chapters still are men-only, but the Society does welcome women.

The reason for this “exclusion” of women was because women were presumed not to have the problem of blaspheming the Holy Name. In centuries past, it was considered an insult to a woman to curse in her presence. Over the last century that taboo fell, men felt free to curse in the presence of women, and the result is that we have a society in which women also curse.

From a historical perspective then, perhaps if men once again took responsibility for their own language, out of devotion to Christ’s Holy Name and out of love and respect for those in their families entrusted to their care, then there would no longer be little girls growing up in homes in which cursing is a way of life.


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