Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Lots of people think that “giving scandal” mean “saying or doing something that upsets somebody”. That’s not true. “Giving scandal” means “saying or doing something that tempts people to commit sin”.
One immediate result of this fact is that it is very hard for an enemy to give scandal, because we are highly unlikely to do something an enemy tells us to do. For example, the other day Obama made some disgusting remarks about how child murder helps women fulfil their dreams. Such remarks, while deeply offensive to pro-life Catholics, are not scandalous to them because no prolife Catholic will be tempted by the thought, “Gee! He’s got a point! I think I will quite the prolife movement and go become an abortionist.” To “scandalize”, in the Catholic tradition, is not to offend, but to tempt to sin. Obama’s remarks can be a source of scandal for impressionable people who, troubled in their conscience about child slaughter, decide that since the President of Hope and Change says it’s a good thing, then a good thing it must be.
In other words, it is friends or beloved family, or trusted authority figures or people we respect who give scandal, because they get past our defenses and tempt us to sin against our consciences. It is the friend who gets us involved in drugs, or who tempts us to steal candy bars, or who eggs us on to vandalize the neighbor’s house, or who urges us to prove our manliness through conquest by fornication. It is the beloved parent who teaches us that alcoholism is normal and acceptable. Or that violent abuse is just “slapping some sense into the wife and kids”. We accept and imitate in people we trust and respect falsehoods and sins we would never tolerate or imitate in an enemy. The truth of this is seen powerfully in that one of the worst temptations Jesus faced came, not from his enemy Judas, but from his friend Peter, who Jesus had to rebuke as “Satan” when he tried to derail him from his mission of self-sacrifice.
The way to avoid this is both simple and hard: As we become adults, we must get our formation from the teaching of Christ’s Holy Church. Vet your views, not merely by what beloved family members, tribal elders politicians who share our ideology, favorite movie stars, and like-minded chums say, but above all by what the Holy Spirit teaches through his Body the Church. That’s the very hard meaning of this saying, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)