Christ said, concerning scandalizing children: "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does come!" (Matthew 18: 6-7).
Bad example is doing wrong in the presence of others.
Bad example is the principal occasion of scandal, which is occasioning the sin of another by any word or deed having at least the appearance of evil. If any help or encouragement is given in any way to cause another to do wrong, scandal is committed or given. Bad example and scandal are sins against the soul included in the Fifth Commandment. They injure our neighbor's soul, and so are worse evils than injuring his body. They do the devil's work and draw souls into hell. If by deliberate scandal and bad example we cause another to commit a grave sin, we are worse than murderers. One who hurts or destroys the spiritual life of his neighbor commits the sin of murder. St. Augustine said, "If thou persuade thy neighbor to sin, thou are his murderer."
Our Lord condemned scandal in no uncertain terms saying: "Woe to the man through whom scandal does come! And if thy hand or thy foot is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee! It is better for thee to enter life maimed or lame, than, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire" (Matthew 18: 7-8).
Grievous indeed must scandal be, to make our gentle Lord use such strong words of condemnation. "The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all scandals and those who work iniquity, and cast them into the furnace of fire" (Matthew 13: 41-42).
Some ways of giving bad example or scandal are: by indecent talk, by selling or circulating bad books or pictures, by singing improper songs, by dressing immodestly, by appearing in public life in a state of drunkenness, by profanity and cursing, by doing servile work publicly on Sunday, by behaving indecorously in church, by ridiculing religion and priests, by writing against religion, by publicly violating one of the commandments of God or the Church, etc.
We should be very careful in our actions, however innocent, so that they may not be the cause of scandal to others. "And if thy eye is an occasion of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee! It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into the hell of fire" (Matthew 18:9).
By committing scandalous acts a person influences others to do the same. This is specially true of children, who easily imitate their parents and elders. He who gives scandal is like a man who digs a pit into which others fall, break their necks. Parents who excessively quarrel in the presence of their children, however great the provocation, set them a bad example, and commit scandal. Public officials who break the law by gambling or immorality give scandal. Older brothers who go to forbidden shows and other places, or take their younger brothers with them are guilty of scandal. Older sisters who are excessively vain in their makeup and dress give bad example to their younger sisters.
We should avoid giving scandal as far as possible. We even ought to abstain from good actions of counsel if they may give scandal. For example, if one is dispensed from abstinence on account of bad health, he should refrain from eating meat before others who might be fasting, in order to prevent their being scandalized. Otherwise, he should explain why he eats the meats.
The aged Eleazar preferred to die rather than give the mere appearance that he was eating swine's flesh, which was forbidden by the Law. He feared to scandalize young persons, who might think he had gone over to the ranks of the heathen (cf. 2 Machabees 6: 24).
If we have been the occasion of scandal or bad example, we are bound to repair the mischief done.
A public scandal must be repaired in a public manner. Even then we usually cannot begin to repair the greater part of the evil we have caused. We must try our best to save those we have scandalized from the effects of our example. We must perform the contrary virtue, incite them by good example, and pray for them. We ought to be more careful about giving scandal, because of the difficulty, nay, almost the impossibility, of repairing the effects of scandal.
Next Thursday: The Sixth and Ninth Commandments - "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shalt Not Covet thy Neighbor's Wife"