Sunday, 21 October 2007
St Alphonsus Liguori - Sermon on Scandal pt 1
"The wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep." - (John 10:12)
The wolves that catch and scatter the sheep of Jesus Christ, are the authors of scandal, who, not content with their own destruction, labour to destroy others. But the Lord says: "Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh" (Matt. 18:7). Woe to him who gives scandal, and causes others to lose the grace of God. Origen says, that "a person who impels another to sin, sins more grievously than the other." If, brethren, there be any among you who has given scandal, I will endeavour this day to convince him of the evil he has done, that he may bewail it, and guard against it for the future. I will show, in the first point, the great displeasure which the sin of scandal gives to God; and, in the second, the great punishment which God threatens to inflict on the authors of scandal.
First point. On the great displesaure which the sin of scandal gives to God.
1. It is, in the first place, necessary to explain what is meant by scandal. Behold how St. Thomas defines it: "Scandal is a word or act which gives occasion to the spiritual ruin of one's neighbour" (2, ii. q. 45, art. 1.) Scandal, then, is a word or act by which you are to your neighbour the cause or occasion of losing his soul. It may be direct or indirect. It is direct, when you directly tempt and induce another to commit sin. It is indirect, when, although you foresee that sinful words or actions will be the cause of sin to another, you do not abstain from them. But, scandal, whether it be direct or indirect, if it be in a matter of great moment, is always a mortal sin.
2. Let us now see the great displeasure which the destruction of a neighbour's soul gives to God. To understand it, we must consider how dear every soul is to God. He has created the souls of all men to his own image. "Let us make man to our image and likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Other creatures God as made by a fiat - by an act of his will; but the soul of man he has created by his own breath. "And the Lord breathed into his face the breath of life" (Gen. 2:7). The soul of your neighbour God has loved for eternity. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jer. 31:3). He has, moreover, created every soul to be a queen in Paradise, and to be a partner in His glory. "That by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). In Heaven He will make the souls of the saints partakers of His own joy. "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:21). To them He shall give Himself as their reward. "I am thy reward exceeding great" (Gen. 15:1).
3. But nothing can show the value which God sets on the souls of men, more clearly than what the Incarnate Word has done for their redemption from sin and Hell. "If," says St. Eucharius, "you do not believe your Creator, ask your Redeemer how precious you are." Speaking of the care which we ought to have of our brethren, St. Ambrose says: "The great value of the salvation of a brother is known from the death of Christ." We judge of the value of everything by the price paid for it by an intelligent purchaser. Now, Jesus Christ has, according to the Apostle, purchased the souls of men with His own Blood. "You are bought with a great price" (1 Cor. 6:20). We can then say, that the soul is of as much value as the Blood of a God. Such, indeed, is the language of St. Hilary. "Tam copioso munere redemptio agitur, ut homo Deum valere videatur" (So plentiful a redemption was given, that man might seem to be worth God.) Hence, the Saviour tells us, that whatsoever good or evil we do to the least of His brethren, we do to Himself. "So long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me" (Matt. 25:40).
4. From all this we may infer how great is the displeasure given to God by scandalizing a brother and destroying his soul. It is enough to say, that they who give scandal rob God of a child, and murder a soul, for whose salvation He has spent His blood and His life. Hence, St. Leo calls the authors of scandal murderers. "Quisquis scandilizat, mortem infert animae proximi" (whosoever scandalizes, brings the soul of his neighbor to death). They are the most impious of murderers; because they kill not the body, but the soul, of a brother, and rob Jesus Christ of all His tears, of His sorrows, and of all that He has done and suffered to gain that soul. Hence the Apostle says: "Now, when you sin thus against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ" (1 Cor. 8:12). They who scandalize a brother, sin against Christ; because, as St. Ambrose says, they deprive Him of a soul for which He has spent so many years, and submitted to so many toils and labours. It is related, that St. Albertus Magnus spent thirty years in making a head, which resembeled the human head, and uttered words; and that St. Thomas, fearing that it was done by the agency of the Devil, took the head and broke it. St. Albertus complained of the act of St. Thomas, saying: "You have broken on me the work of thirty years." I do not assert that this is true; but it is certain that, when Jesus Christ sees a soul destroyed by scandal, He can reprove the author of it, and say to him: "Wicked wretch, what have you done? You have deprived me of this soul, for which I have laboured thirty-three years."
5. We read in the Scriptures, that the sons of Jacob, after having sold their brother Joseph to certain merchants, told his father that wild beasts had devoured him. "Fera pessima devoravit eum" (Gen. 37:20). To convince their father of the truth of what they said, they dipped the coat of Joseph in the blood of a goat, and presented it to him, saying: "See whether this be thy son's coat or not" (v. 32). In reply, the afflicted father said with tears: "It is my son's coat: an evil wild beast hath eaten him" (v. 33). Thus, we may imagine that, when a soul is brought into sin by scandal, the devils present to God the garment of that soul dipped in the blood of the Immaculate Lamb, Jesus Christ - that is, the grace lost by that scandalized soul, which Jesus Christ had purchased with His Blood - and that they say to the Lord: "See whether this be Thy son's coat or not." If God were capable of shedding tears, He would weep more bitterly than Jacob did, at the sight of that lost soul - His murdered child - and would say: "It is My son's coat: an evil wild beast hath eaten him." The Lord will go in search of this wild beast, saying: "Where is the beast? where is the beast that has devoured My child? When He finds the wild beast, what shall He do with him?
6. "I will," says the Lord by his Prophet Hosea, "meet them as a bear that is robbed of her whelps" (Osee 13:8). When the bear comes to her den, and finds not her whelps, she goes about the wood in search of the person that took them away. When she discovers the person, oh! with what fury does she rush upon him! It is thus the Lord shall rush upon the authors of scandal, who have robbed Him of His children. Those who have given scandal, will say: My neighbour is already damned; how can I repair the evil that has been done? The Lord shall answer: Since you have been the cause of his perdition, you must pay me for the loss of his soul. "I will require his blood at thy hands" (Ezech. 3:20). It is written in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt not pity him, but shall require life for life" (Deut. 19:21). You have destroyed a soul; you must suffer the loss of your own.