I have a vivid memory from my freshman year of college. One of my professors, a Catholic, exclaimed, “Oh my God!” I, being rather sensitive about that sort of language, went to him privately and asked if he could please not swear as much, since it put the temptation to curse into my consciousness. He gave me an interesting answer: he said he was not swearing at all. I can only wonder at the kind of look I must have given him, but I did not understand how what he said could be so—after all, it sounded like he was swearing (and, regardless, he did honor my request to stop talking like that).
Over a period of time, something about me began to change. It did not even feel like very much of a change at the time, but, as my freshman year progressed, I—whether consciously or unconsciously—wanted God to be more a part of my everyday life. So over time I started invoking Him more, but in a different way than saying an Our Father or Glory Be. Similar to my method of addressing a friend, I started saying “Oh God” or “Oh Jesus” when I wanted Him to draw near. It was thus that I grew to understand what my professor had said—to simply say His holy Name, if the one saying it means it reverently, is good. Better than good—it is a prayer, and as such one of the best actions a person can do.
The reasoning is actually simple. To paraphrase an idea I got from someone else, every action we make is either blessed or cursed by God, bringing us closer to or farther away from Him. Saying His name is no different—said with love, He draws nearer to us. Said lightly or with anger, our misuse of the Holy Name cries out against us.
So I learned from ordinary Christian living that saying something like “Oh my God,” in an appropriate way is actually a prayer. But, is there a reason to make note of this? Yes, because, like every form of prayer, it can be a great avenue to help us in our walk with Christ. Here are some more reasons to make a quick exclamatory prayer part of your daily life.
It Sanctifies the Ordinary
While having specific slots of our day blocked out exclusively for prayer is a great, even necessary thing, sometimes it can be harder to fulfill our ordinary duties in connection with a full prayer schedule. (I speak from personal experience.) However, saying a short prayer can help us become better people even when our schedules are full, because it helps us to remember that all our actions are done for Him. For example, if suffering from personal trials, even a one- or two-word prayer helps give part of the pain to Him, rather than keeping all the focus on ourselves. Or, if we have a particularly difficult task set before us, speaking briefly to God can help to remind us that, in His very own words, “With God all things are possible.”
How easy is it to address someone else by his name? Most people do it multiple times a day and don’t think twice about it. The same might apply to God, but there are graces attached if we say His name with due reverence. St. Paul explained, “God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed upon him the name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” Saying that name, can, then, help us to keep our knees bowed internally, no matter what we might be doing.
There Are Cautions to Exclamatory Prayers
One problem attached to exclamatory prayers that does not apply to the Our Father and Hail Holy Queen is that we need to be aware of our intent in saying God’s name. It could be quite easy to convince ourselves that we were praying when we were actually cursing, or, even if we did have a prayerful intent, to give scandal—as my good professor almost did. However, if we are constantly becoming closer to God, through vehicles like these and other prayers, we can focus less and less about what our intent when saying “God” at a given time is, and more about simply pleasing Him.
Sometimes His Name Is all That Needs to Be Said
At different points in our lives, we experience moments that are filled with emotion, even too much emotion for words. However, in saying, “God,” we can communicate to Him great joy or gratitude, or unfathomable sorrow. Again, as we grow closer to Him through this greater amount of communication, the more we are open to letting Him give us strength to make it through the hard times, or sharing in our joy. The more grace we invite, the more He is able to bestow.
In short, although there are many reasons why exclamatory prayers can be a great idea, they all point to the main goal of any prayer: that of bringing our hearts and minds ever closer to God. Exclamatory praying’s main focus might be small matters, but it is helpful for larger ones too. Just say, “God” in time of need or thanksgiving with respect, and He will draw nearer. It is just another proof of Christ’s words: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”