Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The Scandal Column by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
"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. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
Have you ever considered the goodness of gossip tabloids? Or, probably not. After all, such publications as National Enquirer, People, Entertainment Weekly, etc. traffic in scandal. But they have at least this virtue: They acknowledge truth and morality. Because necessary to scandal is some sense of what ought to be and how one ought to behave. Interest in (and sales of) salacious news presumes that we have a sense of goodness against which to judge it. Such is the backhanded compliment that scandal pays to virtue. Without a sense of morality there would be no National Enquirer.
But this does not give approval to scandal or its promoters. Our Lord has strong words of condemnation for them: “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” (Mark 9:42). He condemns those who, literally, “scandalize” others.
As familiar as we are with the word, we do not really understand “scandal.” The Greek word “skandalon” means “snare” or “stumbling block” – something that causes others to fall. Yet our culture views scandal as something merely shocking or (more likely) as a juicy piece of gossip. We pay lip service to how awful scandals are, but then we chatter about them. . . and check the news for more of them. If we understood scandal as our Lord does, then we would not be so quick to speak of it. Scandals would not entertain us – they would sadden us and prompt us to pray.
Our Lord’s warning means, first, that each of us avoids giving scandal. Justice requires that we never act or speak in such a way that may lead others astray. Charity – love for neighbor – requires, moreover, that in certain circumstances we forego even what is permissible so as not to mislead morally weak persons. Thus St. Paul chose to abstain from meat to keep his brother from stumbling (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13). Such charity obligates us also to correct a brother who has gone astray – rather than gossip about his failings and spread the scandal further.
We must guard against scandal in another sense: namely, that we not allow ourselves to be scandalized. That we not stumble over the bad example of others. Many have left the Church or refused to enter Her because of the sinful behavior of her members – even of Her clergy. Such failures should sadden us. But they should not surprise us. Our Lord told us that scandals are bound to come (cf. Matthew 18:7). They reveal again our fallen human nature. The sinfulness of the Church’s members does not in any way vitiate the truth of Catholic doctrine. Indeed, it only bears witness to the need for such truth.
Another point: Scandal does not require us to be shocked. The silent acceptance of immorality and the incapacity to be shocked merely indicate that we have gown numb to the depravity around us. That moral numbness is itself a grave evil. Pornography, fornication, cohabitation and divorce once shocked us. We rightly sensed that these things would lead others (especially children) astray and these supposed private matters would damage society as a whole. These things no longer shock us. But they do not for that reason cease to scandalize. Just because a leper grows accustomed to his disease does not mean that it ceases to eat away at his body. Simply because we have grown accustomed to what once shocked us does not mean that it ceases to eat away at our souls and at society.
A sure guard against scandal is union with Our Lady of Sorrows. She shows us first how to respond to the scandals around us – not with despair or prurient interest but with heartfelt sorrow for those in sin. At the foot of the Cross our Lady also obtains for us the grace we need – that we may cause others not to stumble but to advance on the road to salvation.
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