[There is a lot to post about these days with some great feast days approaching!]
I recently looked up the weight of a mill stone, because our Lord tells us “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (cf Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)
A millstone weighs about 3,300 pounds. In other words about the weight of a mini suv. That’s a pretty heavy thing to tie around a neck and to be dropped into the sea. Our Lord also tells us to cut off whatever leads us to sin. He isn’t really using hyperbole here—he is serious. Whatever leads us to sin, we need to cut off. Our hands, our feet, and our eyes don’t lead us to sin, but it’s our dispositions that lead us to sin.
Our Lord is warning us about the grave sin of scandal and tells us that the beauty of life with God is worth the cost of cutting off whatever leads you and I to sin. what is the sin of scandal? We hear about this a lot, especially these days.
The catechism tells us that:
“Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. the person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.” (2284)
The catechism also reminds us that those who have authority have a particularly grave duty to not scandalize those under their care. Those who have the duty to teach or to form others have to be very careful about scandal.
The Catechism also reminds us … “They are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to ‘social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.’ This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.” (2286)
When we examine our conscience, we should always ask “have I led another to sin by my actions, by my omissions, by my words?” We should always confess the sin of scandal, and we then have a moral duty to make reparation for any wrong we have done.
We can see very clearly and painfully how there is no such thing as private sin, and our Lord warns us that our sins affect the entire world, even if we think nobody is looking. Sin destroys, and we should hate sin with a perfect hate. We should never become comfortable with sin in our lives, and always work with great zeal to always respond to the call to conversion, especially in little ways. May we respond with great energy in removing whatever in our lives that lead us to sin—whether it is the computer, the television, bad company, etc. An athlete denies himself many things in order to win the prize, and the same is true for you and me.
On the reverse, a life well lived for God has a powerful effect on those around us. We can see this in the saints. We recently had the feast of Saint Lawrence Ruiz, a Philippino man who was married with 3 children. He was wrongly accused of murder and found himself on a ship to Japan. There was great persecution of Catholics there, and he was tortured to death by the Japanese. He said he would die 1,000 deaths rather than denounce His Catholic Faith. May it be so for us. The Saints did not live comfortable lives, but they had great peace because they were living as God called them to live.
[update: this section I did not preach, but I want to add to this post.
Saint Therese is an excellent example to each of us of holiness. Her Little Way was not the saccharine image that is often portrayed of her. She suffered greatly, experiencing dark nights of faith. She prayed and sacrificed for priests and sinners, even adopting two missionary priests as spiritual brothers. She wrote to her sister Celine:
let us be apostles … let us save especially the souls of priests; these souls should be more transparent than crystal … Alas, how many bad priests, priests who are not holy enough. … Let us pray, let us suffer for them, and, on the last day, Jesus will be grateful. We shall give Him souls! Céline, do you understand the cry of my soul? (Letters, 94)
Ah! Céline, I feel that Jesus is asking both of us to quench His thirst by giving Him souls, the souls of priests especially. I feel that Jesus wills that I say this to you, for our mission is to forget ourselves and to reduce ourselves to nothing. … We are so insignificant … and yet Jesus wills that the salvation of souls depends on the sacrifices of our love. He is begging souls from us! (LT 96)
[On the eve of New Year of 1889 she wrote]: Céline, if you wish, let us convert souls; this year, we must form many priests who love Jesus! And who handle Him with the same tenderness with which Mary handled Him in His cradle!” (LT 101)
Saint Therese shows us that the most important thing is being holy in one’s state in life, whether one is young, old, middle aged, single, married, widowed, a celibate…
We should also invoke St Therese for those who find themselves very far from God and think that it is impossible for them to return to the life of Grace. She experienced such darkness that at times she noted moments of near despair in her suffering.
I like to think of St Therese as my older sister, as I have been accompanied by her all through my journey in the seminary. As a priest, I am very grateful for her intercession for priests. I know she has obtained many graces for me, and I constantly feel her assistance, often in very hidden ways. Here is one I experienced today, on her feast day. I am a hospital chaplain at a mid size regional trauma hospital. Usually there are about 100 Catholic patients, and I have about 15-20 to visit, not to mention whenever they call me for an emergency. Usually this is not a problem; however, this week the pastor is gone on a pilgrimage so I will have lots of work at the parish for about 10 days. Today there were only about 60 Catholics and only a handful of visits, so I had a little physical break today after a very hectic weekend. Nobody has given me any roses or anything, but I like to think that my older sister is looking out for me a bit. ]
It’s not always easy to respond to the graces that God gives to us. We think that keeping the peace or that living for more pleasure will keep us happy. The truth is we are in a real battle, and we need real warriors to help us. This Saturday we celebrate the feast of the 3 great Archangels—Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, who will come to our assistance in powerful ways. If you don’t already know it, learn and pray everyday the prayer to St Michael. Pray to your guardian angel every day, using that classic prayer. Parents are you teaching your children these prayers?
Our Lord warns us in very graphic language about the danger of the sin of scandal. We should never water down His words, and in times of temptation we could remember this passage. On the other side, it is a call to know the power of holiness. We have a moral duty to lead good lives, to love God and neighbor. Always keep a basic principle in mind: moral decisions are never based on sentiment. God expects each of us to be holy, and to help those around us to also be holy. Holy lives have a powerful effect on the world and we have great helpers in the saints and angels. Let us never throw in the towel, and let us never allow the devil to tempt us to think the battle is lost. The punishment for those who commit the sin of scandal is grave, but the reward for those who not are not only holy themselves but who help others to be holy is infinitely greater.