Recall an episode. Two Saints once walked the streets of Lystra. At their feet, a paralyzed man, a cripple from birth. He was handed this life of exterior woe! He asked for it not. He heard the glorious words of the Apostles, received them with faith; and one of the Saints, Paul, ministered unto him a genuine miracle, not a sham pronouncement of words. He said not, “Your sins are no sins.” He said, “Walk.” And the man walked.
Immediately the crowds gathered round to do Paul homage, and they worshiped him and Barnabus. Nowadays, one’s portrait makes a cover or two.
These saints, loving souls, knowing that this worship of mere men were an evil thing for them, knowing that by this worship they would be led astray, led even to hell for their misguided love of Apostles, pointed them away from themselves and to The Only One Who is Good. They bade them repent of their former way of life (Acts 14:8-18).
Let us learn from this ancient episode. The Saint’s good love of this poor man inadvertently caused scandal. Yes, scandal.
Scandal is leading someone astray by words or deeds. Some scandal is intended. Some is not. Unintended scandal cannot always be avoided. Witness this very deed! Intended scandal is Satanic. It is worse than fornication, worse than murder, worse than the unnatural sins.
The act of the Apostles was one of love and divine healing, yet without their intent it led men astray. The instant they observed the effect of this scandal, they immediately pointed out the error, having the man right before them. So quick they were to tear their very robes: We are only men! They exclaimed. Worship God and repent of your former ways in paganism. God hath wrought this, not we.
What must we learn from this episode? If we embrace some sinner whom no one had been embracing, who felt that communion with God would always be impossible, if we embrace such a man, so as to awaken him to God, to show him that God seeks him, …. If we do so and this poor wretch conceives in his mind that his sin is no longer sin, that his life is no longer hostile to God, that he has nothing of which to repent, that he can embrace his sin, identify with his sin, live in his sin, then we have scandalized this poor sinner.
If we love him, surely we intend no harm.
Lovers, we must therefore clarify for him immediately that this was not our intent, that he must repent, that sin is always an obstacle, that sin leads to damnation, that living in sin is worse than sin – for it approaches the impenitence of the damned, and that calling evil good and good evil is an abomination worse than all the above. For it is one thing to be a weak man aiming to do good but falling, when you are seduced by a woman. It is another to embrace an unnatural sin by oneself. It is yet another to defile both self and another in unnatural sin. It is yet another to carve out one’s being in the world by defining oneself according to this sin. It is finally the ultimate step when one wages war against one’s very mind – upon which shines the truth of the order of nature – and declares that what is sin is no sin and that what is right and just is rather sin. This last sin imitates Satan more than the unnatural lusts which cry out to heaven for vengeance.
O lover who has embraced sinners whom too few before embraced! O true lover: Love until the end (Jn 13:1). Do not let your beloved be led astray into the excrement of vile sin, where no life comes forth, where lies only “dung and death” (T.S. Eliot). Let him not descend into the raging pit of fire, the hell of sulfur in which he shall find “No hands, no limbs for pleasure, on earth that had such leisure.”
Now, if the sinner cites you, praises you, extols your embrace as the reason he can continue in his misdeeds…! Then, you has he misread, since you loved him. When he says these things, do you hear him? Hear him, since you love him! For if he does this, you has he misread, for you love him.
Love, then, until the end. Even if he should turn and denounce you. You must pick up your Cross, O Man! For you are but dust yourself!
Pick up your Cross, O Man, and speak the whole truth plainly to him. Misread, your words cause him scandal. Mistaken, your embrace becomes his poison! Let your love, then, fulfill its good work. Bring it to completion. Preach to him the wickedness of his ways and the right understanding of mercy. Tell him of St. Paul’s stark warnings:
“Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God”
If the man has not been washed, then let him be washed and cleansed in baptism. If he has been washed, let him come forward to Confession, do penance for his offenses.
Only then, O Lover, shall you have helped him to the good, that Good alone which will satisfy his heart.
But God forbid: Flatter yourself not. For the man yearns not for your embrace. He yearns for Truth’s Embrace. Mere words are vapid; they have sound but no health; letters, but they cannot heal; signs but no substance.
Why delay? Why delay? He is aged and aging. And our years are but seventy; eighty if we are strong!