Sermons of St. Alphonsus Liguori
Sermon 23 - for the Second Sunday after Easter
"The wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep." - (John
The wolves that catch and scatter the sheep of Jesus Christ, are the authors
of scandal, who, not content with their own destruction, labour to destroy others.
But the Lord says: "Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh" (Matt.
18:7). Woe to him who gives scandal, and causes others to lose the grace of
God. Origen says, that "a person who impels another to sin, sins more grievously
than the other." If, brethren, there be any among you who has given scandal,
I will endeavour this day to convince him of the evil he has done, that he may
bewail it, and guard against it for the future. I will show, in the first point,
the great displeasure which hte sin of scandal gives to God; and, in the second,
the great punishment which God threatens to inflict on the authors of scandal.
First point. On the great displesaure
which the sin of scandal gives to God.
1. It is, in the first place, necessary to explain what is meant by
scandal. Behold how St. Thomas defines it: "Scandal is a word or act which
gives occasion to the spiritual ruin of one's neighbour" (2, ii. q. 45,
art. 1.) Scandal, then, is a word or act by which you are to your neighbour
the cause or occasion of losing his soul. It may be direct or indirect. It is
direct, when you directly tempt and induce another to commit sin. It is indirect,
when, although you foresee that sinful words or actions will be the cause of
sin to another, you do not abstain from them. But, scandal, whether it be direct
or indirect, if it be in a matter of great moment, is always a mortal sin.
2. Let us now see the great displeasure which the destruction of a neighbour's
soul gives to God. To understand it, we must consider how dear every soul is
to God. He has created the souls of all men to his own image. "Let us make
man to our image and likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Other creatures God
as made by a fiat - by an act of his will; but the soul of man he has created
by his own breath. "And the Lord breathed into his face the breath of life"
(Gen. 2:7). The soul of your neighbour God has loved for eternity. "I
have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jer. 31:3). He has, moreover,
created every soul to be a queen in Paradise, and to be a partner in His glory.
"That by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature" (II
Peter 1:4). In Heaven He will make the souls of the saints partakers of
His own joy. "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:21).
To them He shall give Himself as their reward. "I am thy reward exceeding
great" (Gen. 15:1).
3. But nothing can show the value which God sets on the souls of men,
more clearly than what the Incarnate Word has done for their redemption from
sin and Hell. "If," says St. Eucharius, "you do not believe your
Creator, ask your Redeemer how precious you are." Speaking of the care
which we ought to have of our brethren, St. Ambrose says: "The great value
of the salvation of a brother is known from the death of Christ." We judge
of the value of everything by the price paid for it by an intelligent purchaser.
Now, Jesus Christ has, according to the Apostle, purchased the souls of men
with His own Blood. "You are bought with a great price" (1 Cor.
6:20). We can then say, that the soul is of as much value as the Blood of a
God. Such, indeed, is the language of St. Hilary. "Tam copioso munere
redemptio agitur, ut homo Deum valere videatur" (So plentiful a redemption
was given, that man might seem to be worth God.) Hence, the Saviour tells us,
that whatsoever good or evil we do to the least of His brethren, we do to Himself.
"So long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to
Me" (Matt. 25:40).
4. From all this we may infer how great is the displeasure given to
God by scandalizing a brother and destroying his soul. It is enough to say,
that they who give scandal rob God of a child, and murder a soul, for whose
salvation He has spent His blood and His life. Hence, St. Leo calls the authors
of scandal murderers. "Quisquis scandilizat, mortem infert animae proximi"
(whosoever scandalizes, brings the soul of his neighbor to death). They are
the most impious of murderers; because they kill not the body, but the soul,
of a brother, and rob Jesus Christ of all His tears, of His sorrows, and of
all that He has done and suffered to gain that soul. Hence the Apostle says:
"Now, when you sin thus against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience,
you sin against Christ" (1 Cor. 8:12). They who scandalize a brother,
sin against Christ; because, as St. Ambrose says, they deprive Him of a soul
for which He has spent so many years, and submitted to so many toils and labours.
It is related, that St. Albertus Magnus spent thirty years in making a head,
which resembeled the human head, and uttered words; and that St. Thomas, fearing
that it was done by the agency of the Devil, took the head and broke it. St.
Albertus complained of the act of St. Thomas, saying: "You have broken
on me the work of thirty years." I do not assert that this is true; but
it is certain that, when Jesus Christ sees a soul destroyed by scandal, He can
reprove the author of it, and say to him: "Wicked wretch, what have you
done? You have deprived me of this soul, for which I have laboured thirty-three
5. We read in the Scriptures, that the sons of Jacob, after having sold
their brother Joseph to certain merchants, told his father that wild beasts
had devoured him. "Fera pessima devoravit eum" (Gen.
37:20). To convince their father of the truth of what they said, they dipped
the coat of Joseph in the blood of a goat, and presented it to him, saying:
"See whether this be thy son's coat or not" (v. 32). In reply, the
afflicted father said with tears: "It is my son's coat: an evil wild beast
hath eaten him" (v. 33). Thus, we may imagine that, when a soul is brought
into sin by scandal, the devils present to God the garment of that soul dipped
in the blood of the Immaculate Lamb, Jesus Christ - that is, the grace lost
by that scandalized soul, which Jesus Christ had purchased with His Blood -
and that they say to the Lord: "See whether this be Thy son's coat or not."
If God were capable of shedding tears, He would weep more bitterly than Jacob
did, at the sight of that lost soul - His murdered child - and would say: "It
is My son's coat: an evil wild beast hath eaten him." The Lord will go
in search of this wild beast, saying: "Where is the beast? where is the
beast that has devoured My child? When He finds the wild beast, what shall He
do with him?
6. "I will," says the Lord by his Prophet Osee, "meet
them as a bear that is robbed of her whelps" (Osee 13:8). When the
bear comes to her den, and finds not her whelps, she goes about the wood in
search of the person that took them away. When she discovers the person, oh!
with what fury does she rush upon him! It is thus the Lord shall rush upon the
authors of scandal, who have robbed Him of His children. Those who have given
scandal, will say: My neighbour is already damned; how can I repair the evil
that has been done? The Lord shall answer: Since you have been the cause of
his perdition, you must pay me for the loss of his soul. "I will require
his blood at thy hands" (Ezech. 3:20). It is written in Deuteronomy,
"Thou shalt not pity him, but shall require life for life" (Deut.
19:21). You have destroyed a soul; you must suffer the loss of your own. Let
us pass to the second point.
Second point. The great punishment which God threatens
to inflict on those who give scandal.
7. "Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh" (Matt.
18:7). If the displeasure given to God by scandal be great, the chastisement
which awaits the authors of it must be frightful. Behold how Jesus Christ speaks
of this chastisement: "But he that shall scandalize one of these little
ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged
about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea"
(Matt. 18:6). If a malefactor dies on the scaffold, he excites the compassion
of the spectators, who, at least, pray for him, if they cannot deliver him from
death. But, were he cast into the depths of the sea, there should be no one
present to pity his fate. A certain author says, that Jesus Christ threatens
the person scandalizes a brother with this sort of punishment, to signify that
he is so hateful to the angels and saints, that they do not wish to recommend
to God the man who has brought a soul to perdition. "He is declared unworthy
not only to be assisted, but even to be seen" (Mansi., chapt. 3
8. St. John Chrysostom says, that scandal is so abominable in the eyes
of God, that though He overlooks very grevious sins, He cannot allow the sin
of scandal to pass without condign punishment. (...text omitted...)
9. For the sin of scandal Hell was created. (...text omitted...)
10. On the words of Ezechias, "Behold, in peace is my bitterness
most bitter" (Isa. 38:17), St. Bernard, in the name of the Church,
says: "Peace from pagans, peace from heretics, but no peace from children."
At present the Church is not persecuted by idolaters, or by heretics, but she
is persecuted by scandalous Christians, who are her own children. In catching
birds, we employ decoys, that is, certain birds that are blinded, and tied in
such a manner that they cannot fly away. It is thus the Devil acts. "When,"
says St. Ephrem, "a soul has been taken, she becomes a snare to deceive
others." (...rest of paragraph omitted...)
11. Miserable wretches! the authors of scandal must suffer in Hell the
punishment of all the sins they have made others commit. Cesarius relates (l.
2, c. 6) that, after the death of a certain person who had given scandal, a
holy man witnessed his judgement and condemnation, and saw, that, at his arrival
at the gates of Hell, all the souls whom he had scandalized, came to meet him,
and said to him: "Come, accursed wretch, and atone for all the sins which
you have made us commit." They then rushed in upon him, and like so many
wild beasts, began to tear him in pieces. (...rest of paragraph omitted...)
12. Behold, then, the miserable state of those who give scandal by their
bad example, who utter immodest words before their companions, in the presence
of young females, and even of innocent children, who, in consequence of hearing
those words, commit a thousand sins. (...text omitted...)
13. Perhaps some father of a family among you will say: "Then,
am I lost because I have given scandal? Is there no hope of salvation for me?"
No; I will not say that you are past hope - the mercy of God is great. He has
promised pardon to all who repent. But, if you wish to save your soul, you must
repair the scandal you have given. (...rest of paragraph omitted...)
14. Be careful, then, never again to give the smallest scandal. And
if you wish to save your soul, avoid as much as possible those who give scandal.
These incarnate devils shall be damned; but, if you do not avoid them, you will
bring yourself to perdition. "Woe to the world because of scandals,"
says the Lord (Matt. 18:7). That is, many are lost because they do not
fly from occasions of scandal. But you may say: Such a person is my friend;
I am under obligations to him; I expect many favours from him. But Jesus Christ
says: "If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from
thee. It is better for thee, having one eye, to enter into life, than, having
two eyes, to be cast into Hell fire" (Matt. 18:9). Although a certain
person was your right eye, you must withdraw for ever from her; it is better
for you to lose an eye and save your soul, than to preserve it and be cast into
Taken from Sermons
of St. Alphonsus Liguori by TAN
Books & Publishers, Inc.
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