Wednesday, April 22, 2009
When people hear the word "scandal", they think of some bit of juicy titillating gossip about a political figure or celebrity, and enjoy the sense of feigned "shock" followed by the ripple effect of articles and photos and water cooler discussions brought up by the event which might not even be true.
Our Canon Law professor told us last weekend that there are some canonists who don't understand the meaning of the word, and will argue that extramarital affairs and liturgical abuses don't cause scandal anymore becuase no one is surprised when those things happen. In other words, those who are supposed to know better are defining "scandal" as "entertaining, exhilierating, titillating, shocking and newsworthy."
Scandal is now, in the context of canon law and moral theology EXACTLY what it has ALWAYS been! It is a stumbling block.
Scandal is defined as something that leads others to sin. That's why scandal itself is a sin.
For example, if I take a youth group into a store and I steal a pack of gum, I've just caused scandal. Whether those kids know it or not, they've been scandalized because my action, coming from being a person who should be a moral leader, has now given legitimacy to the sin of theft.
Does that mean they'll automatically go out and steal gum? No.
But I can think of times in my own life where people I looked to as a moral example did or said something wrong, and because they did so, it made me think the action was ok. And then I committed the same thing. That doubles the sin; not only did the person who gave example commit an objective sin, but by their example they led me to do the same. That's scandal.
I look around at certain "journalistic" rags (both religious and secular) and there, I read only scandal. Not because I'm tempted, but because others are. And THAT leads me to an entirely different sin of calumny and detraction against the reporters, the writers, the average uniformed "Catholics" writing letters fraught with heretical ideas.
I look around at the blogosphere which at least is honest in that the individual authors tend to proclaim their bias and don't pretend to be "balanced" - but there is much scandal there as well. For there are more than a few blogs I can no longer follow because all I see there is pride, calumny, detraction, anger, attack...etc. All things that are not properties belonging to holiness.
If I can't look at someone or their writings and see holiness, then it's time to walk away. Because if I give in to taking up anger and detraction, well, that's a scandal.
It means that the person writing those inflammatory words is causing scandal, because by his or her example, I am being led into the same sin they possess. I've found over and over again that when I read snark, I become snarky, and if I get snarky and make it public, it makes other people snarky, too.
Now, there is a line; we CAN be critical of things that are unjust or need to be corrected. Pointing out a public wrong doesn't automatically mean the person commenting on it is causing scandal or adding to it. It's all in how it's done.
That's why truth in journalism is so important, why truth in blogging is so important. We're human. We're going to be biased, we're going to have opinions, and often we are going to be quite passionate about those opinions. But that doesn't mean we have to cause scandal in our passion.
I've had a lot of posts that have "magically" disappeared over the last few years, and I'll have more as I go through my archives, or as I write when maybe I'm a bit too inflamed to do so.
The reason many of those posts disappear is because I judge them to be scandalous; either because they contain misinformation which has come to my attention, they are uncharitable (thus scandalous), or maybe they are simply mean-spirited.
The example we set as Christians makes a difference. If X person who claims to be a good Christian has this biting, snarky commentary, it must be ok to respond in that manner and poke fun at someone who is ignorant of our beliefs. If popular X person gives an example of ridicule, then it becomes ok for the rest of us to follow that example, because...hey! X person is popular so his or her opinion must mean a great deal more and if they do it, then we can, too.
The fact is that someone who exhibits the above behaviors is causing scandal; they are leading others into sin.
And yes, I've done it.
I do it all the time, and I am sincerely sorry for leading others to enter with me into such sins. I pray God have mercy on those I mislead and instead place their punishment upon my shoulders, which would be just. If I have scandalized, it is I who should suffer for it, for I have a greater duty.
Sometimes it's hard, though, to know when someone has caused scandal. Snarky humor can be fun, and it can be innocent and poking humorous criticism at serious issues may be a good way to bring correction. Yet, so often, there is a mean spirit involved. We have to evaluate...are we making a personal attack? Are we singling anyone out?
Is the person we are reading being a jerk or is their humor honest and innocent of malicious intent? Are they leading us to denigrate something or someone in an unjust manner? In an unholy manner?
What response does their example cause in us? Does it incite us to our own rants, make us dredge up old offenses and anger...or do we simply laugh at truthful humor and move on?
Is there darkness in our laughter or is there the guilty pleasure that comes with that which is illicit if not fatal?
In looking at all this, in pondering it, I consider my "ranting" posts, and I wonder at whether charity is present. There are some rants I've written out of pure humor, albeit with a biting style. And even though I don't feel anger or bitterness, often that does come through because it's truly the way, culturally, I've learned to express critical humor. And that, even without intent, may be scandalous.
I wonder at my previous posts, knowing that it's important to address what is problematic, but I knew that there would be those who might arrive and begin to air their own liturgical complaints. That has happened...the keyword "liturgy" always attracts people with grievances.
Is that scandalous? Am I responsible for the most bitter among us who are in need of healing but can't seem to find their way out of the darkness so that healing can take place? Am I making their situation worse?
These are things I consider.
Recently, at Crescat's blog, I received a nomination for "Best Spiritual Treat Blog" and I wonder if I should decline the nomination itself.
I love what she's doing, I love her blog, and I've recommended her to others. I love her humor, her truthfulness of who she is and who she claims to be, and totally identify with her.
But...how can I be a spiritual treat if I'm as snarky as the next guy? How does that lead others to holiness?
The reality is that here, I don't have a specific agenda. Maybe evangelization, maybe just sharing my faith because I know there are others who need to know they are not alone. Maybe revealing moments of piety juxtaposed with the majority moments of sin.
I'm not a "Spiritual Treat". You're not going to come to my blog and see a perfect exudation of holiness. It simply isn't present. I'm just a sinner in need of salvation. Awards won't change that fact. If someone thinks I'm anything close to a Saint, well...they've never met one. I spend most of my time causing scandal, actually.
And if I could truly see the impact of my life on others, I'd drop in my tracks and die. For I've lead far more souls into sin than I have been able to point to salvation. And as for myself...I wallow in sin. It covers me. The second I leave the Confessional, I'm back to my regular charms, which aren't charming at all.
My biggest hobby, truthfully speaking: offending God. I go out of my way to offend Him, and then say to myself that it wasn't my intent, no matter how willful my act.
Please don't load my combox with a bunch of platitudes of how great I art. I don't need that nor want it. I NEED to understand the harm I've caused, I NEED to see very clearly the effects of sin, both in recognizing how others have lead ME to sin, and how I have lead others. That's important.
We ALL cause scandal. All of us. We all lead others to sin.
But my hope is here: God NEVER reveals sin without revealing His mercy.
I weep in gratitude that God can see my scandalous life and offer me His pierced hand anyway, so that when He is raised up, I am drawn to Him.
Therin is the scandal of the Cross. The ultimate juxtaposition. Such an event that makes us see how so great a fault that we possess can warrant us so great a Redeemer is beyond our comprehension.
The fact is that Jesus Christ reaches His bloody hands out to us, in forgiveness and sacrificial love, bringing our scandalized souls into Him through scandal personified.
Therin is His Glory.
I have nothing to offer Him but scandal, for I not only sin, but lead others to do so as well. When I approach Him, I bring not only myself, but all those who have been wounded or killed by my actions.
And then He is so generous that at the very revelation of my sorrow, He erases my guilt and restores me to His side, hiding me within His Most Sacred Heart.
And we are all scandalized by such great generosity.
Truly...none of us understands scandal, for it is through scandal that we fall, and in gratitude of scandal that we might enjoy eternal life with Christ.
I will go on, pondering scandal, for even now, I don't understand...
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner....