When I entered the college seminary – St. Pius X, Dalton, Pa. – the faculty pointed out to us the millstones in the courtyard between the residence wings. There was also a monument of millstones at Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northampton, Pa. These were not there to be static monuments – they were to be sobering reminders to us of the great responsibility that we were about to undertake.
To some extent it makes the current crisis in the Church even that more painful and confusing. The meaning of those millstones had to make some impression, I am hopeful, on the many thousands of men who passed through those seminary walls. They were also not just unique features of those two seminaries, as it was a common part of seminary architecture.
Jesus warns us against being agents of scandal. This of course, impacts many different levels of our ministry. To abuse and scandalize a child is so heinous as to be beyond the ordinary imagination, but the Gospel writers also envision the agency of scandal to anyone of any age or status in life.
Scandal – in a theological sense – is to cause such confusion for someone by our actions that we lead them either into doubt or to a total loss of faith.
Each and everyone one of us – no matter who we are – as we are baptized are committed to walking with the people we meet, and especially those with whom we are associated, into eternal life. None of us can ever or should ever desire anything other than the salvation for others. It is not our place to decide who deserves eternal life – so even those whom we find most reprehensible are also in need of our prayers for God’s mercy.
The risk that comes with being an agent of scandal – whether it is public, or even just with one other person – is that we become a block to God’s mercy, healing presence in the life of another. Besides the potential emotional, psychological, and physical harm, it is this spiritual harm that is most destructive.
What are we to do in the face of scandal? Many among us are discouraged almost to the point of despair. To live without hope is entirely contrary to the Gospel. Another great danger is that this sense of hopelessness can itself become scandalous! If someone of weaker faith sees someone with a stronger faith wavering in the face of scandal, we run the risk of further scandal. There is a strong and potentially negative ripple effect of fall-out from any scandal.
So, then, what are we to do? It is one thing to put scandal into perspective. We cannot allow the sins of others to lead us into sin. That is, however, often easier to say than to do. The sins might not appear to be equivalent, but a sin that is the reaction to another’s sin is still a sin.
We need to be more vigilant, and to eliminate from our lives whatever is contrary to the Gospel. In response to scandal our response must be to strengthen our faith, and to deepen our commitment. Our eternal life depends on it. We must also be careful not to allow our reactions to cause disruption in the lives of others. Sometimes the harshness of our comments, judgments and even non-verbal reactions, can be disruptive and destructive.
While those millstones stood in the seminary courtyards, they belong on the front yards of each of our homes. We must remember that the potential for any scandal is destructive, and we cannot allow unfettered conversations – especially around those who are most vulnerable – to destroy the faith that we all share in Jesus Christ.
Is it easy? NO! But then discipleship isn’t meant to be easy. We cannot allow our challenges to be the cause for sin or scandal for someone else. Period.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]