Avoiding Scandal

20 Aug

scandalOne of the principal ways we demonstrate our fidelity to Christ is how we talk about the priesthood and contemporary issues facing the Church. Is our speech edifying? Does it bring people closer to the Lord? Are we ambassadors of Christ’s mercy and peace? (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20).

Probably the harshest critics of the Church are former Catholics and those who still consider themselves Catholic but who oppose the Church on any number of issues. Surely it’s very easy to find fault in the Church sometimes. We may be rightly upset or disturbed. When we give verbal expression to these feelings, we may be just “letting off steam,” and everything we say may well be true. But having some of the truth and needing to let off steam do not excuse making statements that will harm the faith of other Catholics whose faith perhaps is weaker, provide an unnecessary stumbling block for nonbelievers, and needlessly and perhaps even unfairly harm the reputations of others (cf. Catechism, no. 2477).

In place of the above, Scripture is very clear. We are told to say “only the things men need to hear, things that will help them” (Eph. 4:29). As St. Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Scandal involves inducing others to sin (cf. Catechism, nos. 2284-87). It’s nothing less than spiritual murder. Are our comments regarding the Church being expressed in ways that will actually turn people against the Church? And if giving scandal is like spiritual murder, then taking scandal is akin to spiritual suicide. We must protect our own hearts, that we do not allow our own negative feelings about the real evils we encounter to fester and ultimately to lead us out of the Church.

In the business world, there’s a maxim that may help us take the right approach in this matter. Successful managers are able to “catch their employees doing something right” and in the process provide positive reinforcement for good behavior. In the spiritual realm, we likewise do well to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). There are holy people in the Church. There are many great stories of contemporary Christian heroes, not to mention the lives of saints through the centuries. There is much good going on in the Church on many different fronts, globally, nationally, and right here in Kansas City. We need to acknowledge and publicize this truth.

This does not mean that we ignore the sins of Church members. The Church is at once holy yet always in need of renewal and reform, and charitably correcting a sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. Using an analogy, let us assume that a husband and wife are having marital problems, and the husband wants to do something about it. The first step would be for the husband to honestly acknowledge the nature and extent of the problem. He would try to work things out with his spouse, and no one would criticize him for seeking the help of others–marital counselors, spiritual advisors, friends and confidantes, and above all God Himself–to help remedy the problem.

However, if the husband were to begin to vilify his wife to his children, to neighbors, perhaps even to the press, we can say that regardless of the truth and frustration level behind his statements, he is only hurting the situation. Notice that St. Joseph, when confronted with the apparent infidelity of his wife, determined to “divorce her quietly,” without subjecting her to shame (Mt. 1:19).

As Catholics, we similarly have to distinguish between acknowledging the truth and taking restorative action from mere venting and causing greater division within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we will trust the Lord, confident that His mercy and justice will ultimately prevail.

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