Scandal

Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (NAB)

I went to the Cathedral of Saint James in downtown Orlando recently, catching a half-hour of Adoration, receiving Reconciliation, and attending the noon Mass.  Be warned that there is practically no free parking in downtown Orlando and this exercise in piety cost me eight quarters fed into a meter (the wages of sanctity?). The delightful elderly Irish priest Father McCormack who heard my confession also celebrated the Mass.  He gave a great – albeit brief, characteristic of weekday Mass – homily, centered on the above quote from Mark’s Gospel.

“Sternest words Jesus ever spoke” he began, “and if we think Jesus spoke the truth, these should be alarming words my friends!”  Father McCormack had my attention.

Jesus was talking about the sin of scandal.  In the Catechism, under the Fifth Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) and the subheading “Respect for the Dignity of Persons”:

Respect for the souls of others: scandal

(2284) Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads others 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.

(2285) Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized.  It prompted our Lord to utter this curse “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Jesus reproaches the Scribes and the Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

(2286) Laws can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.  Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline or 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 encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

(2287) Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.  “Temptations are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”

It doesn’t take long reflection to see Christians today are sailing treacherous seas of scandal, propelled by mass media.  There are number of prominent figures in the entertainment industry for example whose careers are fueled by scandal.  They lead their young fans to emulate their scandalous attitudes and behaviors.  It would be easy to create a long list of public figures enmeshed in scandal.  But I’d like to focus on a striking thought I had, in reference to the pedophile priest scandal in the Church.  Jesus’ greatest wrath will be reserved not for the sick souls in the grip of sexual sin, but for the bishops who knew what they were doing but shuttled their scandalous charges off to parishes in other dioceses.  These men read Mark 9:42 out loud to congregations many times – maybe even preached about it – and yet its moral clarity eluded them.  “This is my beloved Son – listen to him!” Not complicated when you think about it – not easy to do perhaps (“Pick up your cross, and follow me”), but not rocket science either.

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