Most civilized individuals comprehend the evil in which man causes bodily injury to his neighbor, as well as those sins one can direct against his own life. But there seems to be a great misunderstanding of the different ways by which we can injure our neighbor's soul.
How is it possible to injure our neighbor's soul?
We do so when we scandalize him; that is, when we deliberately tempt him to sin or voluntarily influence him, or give him occasion to commit evil.
Let us then prayerfully consider, with the help of the Holy Spirit:
I. The nature of this sin.I. All offenses by which we injure the soul of our neighbor are called sins of scandal. This word "scandal" is very often misunderstood and used in a wrong sense.
II. The reasons for avoiding it.
Many people take it in its narrower meaning and think that it consists only in causing vexation or annoyance to others. But this is not the scandal spoken of by our Savior, or alluded to in Holy Scripture and by the catechism.
What, then, constitutes the sin of scandal?
It consists in injuring the soul of our neighbor by causing him to commit sin, or putting him by some influence or action of ours into a worse state, making his conscience harder and less upright than it was before the scandal.
Who are guilty of this sin?
Those who make known to others evil of which they were ignorant; who by their commands, their counsel, their actions, their promises, or threats lead others to commit sin which they would otherwise not have committed; who by their point of view, their examples, their praise, their conduct, knowingly and consciously influence others for evil; who provide opportunities of sin for others which they would not otherwise have had.
Let’s look at an example from Holy Scripture.
After the death of Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the kingdom of Juda and the kingdom of Israel. Although the kingdom of Juda was much smaller than the kingdom of Israel it had one great advantage in possessing the ancient capital Jerusalem. In Jerusalem was the only temple of the true God; in it lived the high-priests, and it was there they offered the lawful sacrifices and celebrated the festivals to which the entire populace of both empires crowded. The first king of the separated kingdom of Israel feared that his subjects by going too often to the festivals and sacrifices in Jerusalem might be seized with the desire to be once more united to the kingdom of Juda. So what did he do?
He erected north and south at the boundaries of his kingdom a golden calf as an idol. He himself offered sacrifice to it and he commanded his people to do the same. Now here we have clearly a sin of scandal. The king gave scandal to his people by causing them to commit the sin of idolatry; by erecting the idols he provided them with the occasion of sinning, and by sacrificing to the idols himself he gave them bad example.
Moreover, in commanding them to adore these idols and forbidding them to go to Jerusalem to worship the true God he deliberately led them into sin. We read that the good King Azarias when struck with leprosy withdrew to an isolated house apart from his people for fear of contaminating them with his foul disease. Unfortunately, many rulers both before and after him have, on the contrary, done their utmost to spread amongst their sub?jects the errors of idolatry.
If we look around about us in the world we can see that giving scandal is quite common. Thousands and thousands of people are engaged in writing, printing, selling, and lending books, movies, and music that positively teem with indecencies, blasphemies, and speculations of all kinds, things which neither young nor old can read, watch or listen to without sin. Such things are eagerly devoured by multitudes. Pornographic or sexually explicit movies and pictures are made, painted, printed, and reproduced an indefinite number of times and they would be difficult for anyone to look at without sin; yet this is the class of objects which rivets the eyes of thousands upon thousands each and every day. It permeates television and the internet and is accessible by even the most innocent children.
Across the country, politicians, teachers, and sadly, even a few priests and religious are engaged in giving erroneous representations of Catholic doctrine and speaking of things which are opposed to the natural moral law and which are repugnant to the senses of a civilized and moral society.
Some actors and singers engage in performances which could not easily be listened to innocently.
For the sake of money, opportunities are publicly and privately offered for the commission of sins of impurity, and many make use of such opportunities.
Adults young and old think nothing of holding conversations in the presence of children which are quite unfit for them to hear. In some places state sponsored programs are even used to promote perversion and sexual deviance and fill the minds of children with such propaganda. These poor young creatures may have no choice but to listen day by day to such poison and contamination; how can they keep themselves unsullied?
And besides all of this, what an example of sin, of unbelief, of contempt of the Church and her ordinances, is but too often given by superiors to their inferiors.
And how many parents are a source of scandal to their own children! How many young souls have owed their initiation to vice and the premature loss of their innocence to their intimate friends and companions! How many there are that give scandal, how many are ready to take it!
How true are our Savior’s words: "Woe to the world because of scandals!" Woe, indeed, because of their number, but still more because in itself scandal is such grievous sin.
II. This brings us to the second point of our instruction, namely, the reasons for avoiding scandal. What should particularly deter us from giving scandal?
1. The thought that he who gives scandal by destroying those souls which Jesus Christ has ransomed with His blood is the ally of Satan.
2. The dreadful consequences of this sin.
3. The awful pronouncement by Jesus Christ: "He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
These reasons should be powerful enough to deter any Christian from the sin of scandal.
He who gives scandal is doing the work of Satan.
This is nothing more than the truth, for what is Satan's business but to draw men into sin, and to keep them in it, thus bringing them to destruction and hell. Therefore, the scandal-giver is first and foremost the ally of Satan.
What a disgraceful part to play! It is bad enough to have this ancient, malicious, envious, treacherous enemy of mankind always close beside us with his numberless temptations. Does hell with its evil spirits not furnish him with helpers enough? Are not his assaults only too successful as it is? Must men need to enroll themselves in his service, making themselves his most efficient allies?
It is easy to understand why Satan should want to deceive souls. He has lost heaven, hope has forsaken him, hell is his portion forever, and there is no salvation for him. But that men and Christians, citizens of the earth, who have it in their power to sanctify themselves, who are called to eternal life, for which they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, that they should stoop to further the devil's work is an unspeakable disgrace.
In what way does giving scandal help and promote the work of Satan?
It helps in a way in which he is not able to help himself. The devil can not speak to us in audible language; he can place no material picture before us which we can see with our bodily eyes; he can neither command nor threaten nor bribe us; he is not at liberty to tempt us as he pleases, but is restricted according as God allows.
When we give scandal we do for the devil that which with all the resources of hell he is not able to do for himself. Oh, the ignominy, the sin, the shame of scandal!
Further, let us review the results and consequences of scandal. What are its results?
First, it causes him who actually gives the scandal to commit sin, and next, it leads into sin those who take it. These last are generally no small number. Many listen to and laugh at unclean, unrestrained conversations in shops, factories, schools, and even in places of worship. Those who have been tempted themselves tempt others in their turn, repeating these jokes and songs, and so making for others the same occasions of sin that they have had themselves.
One single scandal grows and flourishes long after it has passed from the mind of the giver of it, perhaps when he is dead and his bones have been moldering for hundreds of years; and it may be that it will live right up to the very day of judgment.
It has been said that one book of the godless and unbridled French writer Voltaire has given rise to more mortal sins than there are letters in the whole volume, and this is probably understating the case, rather than overstating it. Though the author of it has long since gone to his grave the evil book lives on and was read by hundreds. “Woe to the world because of scandal!"
If scandal in general is a thing so dreadful, then to give scandal to the innocent is the worst of all. Of this kind of scandal our Savior says:
"He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea."How precious in the sight of God is the youth and innocence of the souls of children; redeemed by Christ and washed pure in His precious blood they are tenderly loved by Him and destined for the kingdom of heaven, and His curse and vengeance will surely fall on those who shall dare to snatch them out of His hand and lead them along the road to perdition. Better, a thousand times, they had been cast into the sea with a millstone round their necks, than that they should live on to give more such scandal.
In truth, the sin of scandal is a terrible one. It is terrible in its own nature, awful in its consequences, and in the punishment it merits.
There is but one resolution to make after this meditation: O my Savior, I promise Thee I will never give scandal. May my tongue cleave to my mouth, my hands wither away, my feet grow powerless, rather than I should be a cause of sin to others. I will give no scandal, neither will I take it; and when the tempter approaches me I will drive him away with the words which Thou Thyself made use of "Get thee behind Me, Satan" - I will neither see you nor hear you nor follow you. Depart from me; I am and mean to be for all eternity the faithful disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Adapted from Popular Sermons on the Catechism, Vol. II(©1914)
by Rev. A. Hubert Bamberg
Edited by Rev. Herbert
Nihil Obstat: Remegius Lafort, S.T.D
Imprimatur: John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York