Bad company corrupts good character: so says Saint Paul, who will enter Heaven among the highest tiers of angels. He says this because he knew both: the bad company of his previous life before his conversion to Christianity, and the good company he sought out after he became a Christian. Now Paul was writing to an audience of believers at the time, but mysteriously, through the Holy Spirit, also to us of this time and to all times. As an elder father of the Church, he knew the pitfalls and trappings of his 'modern' society; these same trappings are evident in every society since the fall of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. We cannot expect a utopian civilization as some politicians and visionaries would like to promise us. There will always be ugly in the world and one of the greatest dangers comes not directly from the devil but from our fellow mortal man, through whom the devil constantly seeks to work.
Therefore dear friends, it would be good for us to explore and investigate our relationships with others, which is so vital to our spiritual health and is in fact always on our minds, though oftentimes it is just below the surface in our subconscious thought. We must be fed and nourished spiritually if our souls are to live and grow; without food the soul dies and is lost unless God does a miracle. Still, our 'self' must not take precedent during our spiritual journey; it is enough to glorify God in Heaven. Prayer and penance nurture the soul, but we oft neglect that our contact with others is a strong influence in the process. Some of the great saints had terrible surroundings but still, miraculously, lived and grew spiritually because God put both the will and the piece of Heaven in their hearts to do so.
For most of us, however, bad company indeed corrupts good character and the minute people who do bad deeds or use unholy speech crop up into our lives it should be a red flag, a strong warning that we must get out of the situation, or literally as well as figuratively we will die. Of course, there are few on earth that are truly saintly people that we more or less always can get a good influence from; Padre Pio comes to mind. In most cases it is enough to bear with one another, remembering that our own faults, though we often think them to be far less than anyone else's flaws, are quite often also a source of angst to our fellow man.
There are however certain situations common to Catholics seeking out holiness that we should speak of as things that would be well to avoid. The first that comes to mind are certain 'Roman Catholic' Internet chat groups. My experience for the most part has been that these so-called lists are nothing more than bountiful sources of perdition, wherein the devil masquerades as children of light. The wily serpent uses fellow 'Catholics' who are as in danger of losing their souls as much as any of us, as so-called fonts of information, understanding, and wisdom. Don't believe them. No matter how much self-study they have done, and how high-minded and sounding their words might seen, even if an angel were to come and preach a gospel other than that given by the apostles and saints, we should in no way believe them. (cf. Galatians 1: 8-10).
A problem with such lists is that they seem so enticing at first, a kind of communal area of cyberspace where children of God can come and chat and share reflections on the Lord, good tidings, and information of interest to Catholics. The problem is that the senior or founding members of such lists are most likely ordinary persons who in the human nature begin to think of themselves as special for having contributed so long to the well-being of others on the Internet. They may even form a sort of unofficial 'list-Mafia' to keep what they think are errant Catholics in check who might post something they don't agree with. These people have a spiritual problem, but is easy to be swayed by a majority of such persons. And the one rule that these list Mafia have is to support all the other 'list-Mafia' when they censure what they see as an errant Catholic.
It is easy to be swayed by the majority in our human natures, so too was Pontius Pilate swayed by the mob, who shouted 'Crucify Him, crucify Him!' If one dares to criticize a 'list-Mafia', one can be sure that insults will fly from those Mafia types and if the so-called errant one is unrepentant, he or she might easily be thrown off the list. This situation is so strikingly similar to that of the Pharisees, who insulted and then threw the man born blind out of the Synagogue, that one can realize that 'list-Mafia' are certainly the spiritual descendents of the same. In fact I belonged to such a list, which was composed of mainly SSPX parishioners. God help us all when these are the best individuals that traditional Catholicism can produce.
Then there is always the temptation, when our knowledge of the Word grows, but when our spiritual direction is lacking, to take up debating with other so-called Catholics. The problem begins with the very root notion of this activity - the idea that one needs to debate with another Catholic about the truths of our faith. Yet these truths are evident to all - in the form of true Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine; there is no need to debate them and it might even be a sin. Those who believe in the Holy Faith have no need to argue about it. It is a useless, futile exercise when it transpires but worse, our souls might even be put in danger. Many times, a so-called harmless debate becomes a shouting match, and maybe even a cursing match. The mind of the combatant debaters is filled with bad things to the point of even pride, envy, and hate. The result is that the sinner comes out of it in an even worse shape than before he or she started debating. Such exercises in futility take up much time, and probably will leave the combatants bitter and questioning their faith. Don't let it happen to you!
Flee from all such situations is the best counsel that I, an unworthy servant of God, can give you. If someone wants to debate, refer him or her to the priest or religious. Many of the orthodox clergy are trained in theology and in dealing with such matters and most can sidestep the trappings of these so-called debates, and spiritually doctor those who come to them with this need, which is really a cry for spiritual help.
In terms of contacts and friends made even at church, the same is true dear brethren. It is a human tendency to enter into a church and think that everyone there must be holy and some great religious person. We should hope, but alas, oft is not the case. Our fellow parishioners may be struggling and even worse off than we, though we should never think so or compare ourselves. We can look even to the holy Saint Paul, who like the rest of us was working out his salvation with fear and trembling, and hoping with the faith that he was given that he would be called to be among the elect at the banquet given by our Lord. We too should hope, but association with fellow parishioners, even if we are popular among them, has little in common with our salvation. Unfortunately today 'solidarity' and 'unity' are buzz words that forge an over-importance in the community at the cost of the individual soul's concerns. Salvation comes from God, not from all being together at church, and we must pray to Him for the right contacts in which we can be helped and others can be helped by us in our spiritual journeys.
When we invite bad television, radio, records, videos, and books into our homes, the devil can creep up slowly. It starts innocently enough, just a little enjoyment. Then it becomes addictive, and preoccupies our time and life. We start thinking like the messages they broadcast tell us to, like those who don't know God and have not a right concept of Him. The images and music portrayed are often not godly and not spiritually nourishing. It begins to replace all of our events, and we start thinking like the secular world, in an ungodly and unspiritual manner. It leads to apathy concerning the Church, our salvation, and the true spiritual care and concern for others. We take up bad fashions and foster petty grievances.
It can go further so we can lose our understanding of the concepts of sin, hell, and our eventual judgment by the Almighty. We become invincible in a sense, but are only fooling ourselves, because what is written in Holy Scripture concerning the resurrection of the dead will transpire, that the second death will come to unbelievers and those who have lost the faith. Why get into these predicaments? Is it not better to flee now while we still have the chance, before the evil one gets us like the bogeyman he is and devours us whole?
Finally, dear friends, we should consider the third person contacts we may have, and I am thinking of so-called messages from God or the Holy Virgin that seem to be not only ubiquitous but also nearly out of control among Catholics. Let me tell you a few things. God, the Holy Virgin, and the saints most only speak to holy people, or those that by the will of the Father in Heaven will be made holy, like Saint Paul. The Lord and the Blessed Virgin rarely appear to the ungodly, the prideful, and the vain to give them messages. When weird messages attributed to our friends in Heaven start pouring out from some unknown source, we can know that something is wrong and we should flee such contacts.
Let us consider three Apparitions that are most likely worthy of belief: Fatima, La Salette, and Lourdes. In each case the Holy Virgin appeared for a short time to children, who then if they lived past childhood became celibates, and several became religious. Such is not the case with the so-called apparitions at Bayside and Medjugorje, which dragged on and on for many years with little or no evidence of exemplary living among the so-called seers. In some cases, the seer may be good but the apparition may be from the evil one. Garabandal comes to mind in this case. These latter ruminations are likely worthless at best and might even do harm.
A good rule of thumb for every case of the company we keep is this:
If it does not, then it is probably time to hit the old delete key. And, if what you received came via the e-mail, you might want to change your friends, who are not really friends if they allow the evil one into the chat rooms.
- Is what I am reading and hearing edifying?
- Does it uphold and affirm the Truths and Traditions of the Holy Catholic Church?
- Does it contribute to my spiritual growth?
In these times satan can come in so many disguises. He will never reveal himself in all his uglyness to those who are repelled by such appearances. Rather, he will come as representing that which attracts us such as apparitions, certain prayers we must say that have come from private revelation and are mandated by the group following the bearer of the private revelation, or even through a Church teaching and through that portal, will then, like a virus, infect the rest of the soul. The devil is very, very powerful and we must remember what Saint Peter warns of in 1 Peter 5: 8, "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour." Therefore, to be assured what you are hearing, what you are reading, always rely on the tried and true old catechism, and the religious literary works by the Saints and Doctors of the Church. They cannot fail to help us if we look to them for guidance rather than useless messages that promise temporal protection and things of importance relating to the world. The latter only cause confusion instead of the clarity of spiritual and eternal treasures that the Church holds worthy in her Sacred Deposit of the Faith. Always remember: our comfort comes first of all from God in Heaven, the glorious train of angels that accompanies Him, the Holy Virgin, and all the angels and saints. What better contacts, friends, and role models could we possibly have than these to imitate?
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Immaculatum Virginem Mariam, Filii tui Genitricem, corpore et anima as caelestem gloriam assumpsisti; concede, quaesumus, ut ad superna semper intenti, ipsius gloriae mereamuresse consortes.
Almighty, everlasting God, who hath taken up the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of Thy Son, with body and soul into Heavenly glory: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may always, intent on higher things, deserve to be partakers of her glory.