01 February 2008

Just between you and me

Father Echert again mentioned in bible study that if a couple that was living together came to him and ask him to marry them in the Church, he would tell the couple that they first needed to physically separate from each other -- no longer live together. If they proposed living together as "brother and sister" until the wedding, he still wouldn't marry them. The reason is scandal.

From the Catechism:
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing.

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible." This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

Father briefly spoke about political leaders and how they cause scandal. He also said that when society begins to allow scandals to persist, then more and more people begin to see a particular sin as acceptible and society becomes tainted by it and jaded to it. This is one thing my own father was keenly aware of. He never troubled himself about what others thought about him (in the more secular sense, like if he had the biggest house or coolest car), but he certainly was aware of how actions would look to others. For this reason, and probably because he was no fool and knew it provided a near occasion of sin, I was never allowed to have a boy in my room. I wasn't allowed to stay out late (which was also a good character developer) because of appearances. There was no way he was going to be involved in scandal.

We see St. Paul taking quite a strong stand against scandal in 1 Corinthians 5 where he chastises a group who thought themselves as pious, but allowed a man to be in an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law. He calls for them to toss the man from their midst. But, as we are called to charitably correct sinners, we are also told to show mercy and compassion. And, to "forgive seventy times seven."

She had to go away for awhile
I previously wrote about divorce from a dispassionate genealogical perspective. But, another thing that has caused pain in families is the scandal that an out-of-wedlock birth used to cause. Today it is fashionable to have a baby without being married. Not that long ago it was a huge scandal. Women went away to have their babies and often times gave them up for adoption. I'm a big proponent of adoption, so I'm certainly not bashing it, but the circumstances that brought about the adoption often times have long-term consequences and ramifications.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a woman whose father was born out of wedlock to my husband's great-grandmother. Great-grandma was left a widow with a young daughter when her husband of only three years passed away. Great-grandma left her daughter in the care of her parents and siblings while she went to the city to find work to support her daughter. No one really knows the circumstances, but great-grandma got pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption. In this case, the baby was adopted by the paternal grandmother. However, great-grandma took this "secret" to her grave and allowed her daughter, my husband's grandmother, to believe she was an only child. Great-grandma never had any contact with her son, even though he only lived a short distance away.

In my own family, a great-aunt had a baby out of wedlock. She went to some length to make sure that no one knew, afraid to even use her own name on the birth certificate. For awhile, she tried to care for the infant herself in the small apartment she had in St. Paul. City directories show she even claimed to be a widow, just to avoid the stigma. Financially unable to care for her daughter any longer, she placed the baby in an orphanage in St. Paul and visited her as often as she could. The rest of family, who lived in Hudson, WI, never knew about the baby. It wasn't until her parents had passed away and she was respectibly married that this great-aunt and her husband "adopted" a young teenaged girl. The daughter they "adopted" was really her biological daughter she had finally claimed from the orphanage.

These situations are not all that uncommon. Every family seems to have some scandal or another. So, what are we to do? Admonish the sinner? Remove them from our midst as St. Paul suggests? Does ostracizing the person stop the "bad leaven" from infecting society?

That's the problem with sin that many people don't seem to understand -- their sins, their leaven, affects everyone. Nearly a hundred years after great-grandma had this baby out of wedlock, her descendents are just beginning to see and feel the impact of her choices. Part of the real scandal is the selfish and libertarian notion that we can do what we want as long as it doesn't affect our neighbor. Another part of the scandal is not letting these people see Jesus in us -- showing them a little bit of mercy that might've helped them get back on the right track instead of spending their lives covering things up.

"When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale."
- Chesterton, Heretics


Mairin :o) said...

That stigma is not dead. I was an unwed mother and it caused my mother a great deal of shame and embarrassment, as if it reflected on her. When I was pregnant she would not be seen with me in public nor would she attend Mass with me. She never forgave me.

swissmiss said...

Sorry to hear that your mother never forgave you. It's such a difficult situation and people seem so quick to want to admonish the sinner with a great big stick. I can see what damage this has done in my own family. Difficult to know what to do in many instances, but even criminals get out of jail after serving their crime!

Angela M. said...

My husband has an older half brother. They share the same father. Somehow my MIL never knew until "Anthony" was about 45 years old. My FIL's relatives all knew but nobody ever told. "Anthony" was born before my in-laws met but it still caused a lot of hurt that my FIL hadn't told her earlier. FIL thought MIL wouldn't marry him if she knew and when you look back to how things were in 1953 I would say my FIL was right.

My husband has never gotten over the fact he is no longer the "eldest son." It's a silly, outdated notion dating back to anitquated inheritence laws but that's how he feels.

swissmiss said...

If all of our sins were only visible to everyone, like having a baby is, I don't think we'd be so judgmental about the transgressions of others.

Funny your husband is kind of upset about not being the oldest any more. I do know that when I had my kids that I wanted the oldest to be a boy. I'm the oldest in my family and I always wanted an older brother :)

Angela M. said...

Swissmiss - my husband has an older brother he can give you LOL!