1. By occasions of sin are meant such places, persons, or things which as a rule are the means of leading us into sin, if we go in quest of them.
For instance, the society of the dissolute, the perusal of anti-religious books are an occasion of sin to every one; so is the drinking-saloon to the drunkard. Occasions of sin may be compared to a plague-stricken person, who gives the contagion to all who approach him; or to fire, which burns all that it touches, or to a stone in the way, which causes many to stumble.
Occasions of sin may be voluntary or involuntary.
The drinking-saloon is a voluntary occasion of sin to the inebriate, because nothing obliges him to frequent it; but to the landlord himself it is an involuntary one.
2. To expose one’s self heedlessly to an occasion of sin, is in it self a sin; it entails the loss of divine grace and leads to mortal sin.
Every one knows it is wrong to carry a burning torch into a place where hay, straw, and other inflammable materials are stored. To delight in occasions of evil and to fall into sin, St. Augustine declares to be one and the same thing. St. Peter sought the company of the enemies of Christ in the high priests palaces and he fell, for God withdrew His grace. “He that loveth danger shall perish in it” (Ecclus. iii. 27). “He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled with it” (Ecclus. xiii. 1).
3. He who finds himself in circumstances which are an occasion of sin to him, and does not instantly leave them, although it is in his power to do so, commits a sin; he will be deprived of the assistance of divine grace and will fall into mortal sin.
In paradise Eve sinned by not going away from the tree. St. Augustine says our first parents ought not to have so much as touched the forbidden fruit. Cleomenes, King of Sparta, was once urged by a foreign prince to betray his country for a large sum of money. The king’s little daughter, hearing what was proposed, exclaimed: “Father, go quite away or the stranger will corrupt thee.” The king instantly left the room and would not suffer the stranger to enter his presence again. Let us be equally prompt in forsaking occasions of sin.
4. He who refuses to give up what is to him an occasion of sin, cannot expect to obtain pardon of sin here, or eternal salvation hereafter.
One who so acts has no contrition, that determinate turning away from creatures and turning to God, which is an indispensable condition for forgiveness of sin. Hence one who might give up an occasion of sin without great difficulty and does not do so, must not expect absolution from the priest. It is otherwise if giving up the occasion of sin involves loss of reputation, of property, of the means of livelihood; but even then he must promise either to abstain from the sin, or avoid the occasion of it. We know from Our Lord’s words that hell awaits those who will not forsake the occasions of sin: “If thy hand or thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to go into life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire” (Matt. xviii. 8); that is to say, although any object be as dear to you as your hand or your foot, you must separate yourself from it, if it is an occasion of sin to you, or hell will be your portion. “What sacrifices men will make,” says St. Augustine, “to preserve their mortal life; they shrink from no expense, no humiliation; yet they will make no sacrifice for life immortal.” As a man consents to the amputation of his hand or foot if it is a question of saving his life, so the sinner must detach himself from what he loves best, in order to save his soul. Traders will cast all their merchandise into the sea to save the ship and their own lives from destruction; so we must part with all to which our heart clings most fondly, rather than imperil our eternal salvation.
Hence even the greatest saints did not venture lightly to expose themselves to the danger of sin.
Their watchword was: “Safety is in flight.” It is said that St. Peter on the outbreak of the persecution, fled from Rome, fearing lest he should again be tempted to deny Christ; not until Our Lord appeared to him outside the city gates did he venture to expose himself to the danger. And shall those who are the slaves of their senses consider vigilance to be superfluous? Will one who cannot swim dare to plunge into the water?
Those, however, who by reason of their calling or any other necessity, are compelled to expose themselves to occasions of sin, must put their trust in the protection of the Most High.
Officials, priests, doctors and others are often compelled by the duties of their office to incur many dangers. If they do not tempt God by presumption, they may count upon the assistance of His grace; but not so those who in an uncalled-for manner and with out just cause expose themselves to the risk of sin.
5. The most common and the most dangerous occasions of sin are: liquor saloons, dancing saloons, bad theatres, bad periodicals, and bad novels.
Some one may perhaps ask: Is one expected to live like a recluse or a misanthropist? St. Augustine answers this question: “Better and holier people than thou have forsworn those amusements; canst not thou do the same? The Christian’s pleasures are not taken from him, they are changed and ennobled.” Again he says: “How sweet it is to renounce the vain enjoyments of the world! I shrank from the obligation to forego them, and now I rejoice in having lost them.” “The worldling,” says St. Bernard, “sees our afflictions, but he knows not our consolations.” Those are no true joys which are not in God.
1. The liquor saloon is principally dangerous for those who go thither every day, and spend a long time there.
There is nothing sinful in frequenting a saloon as a recreation after the day’s work; in fact taverns are necessary for the entertainment of travellers. But one ought to be careful as to the character of the house one frequents, so as not to associate with hard drinkers, or men whose conversation is unseemly. Unfortunately those who spend much of their time in the saloon are apt to acquire the habit of drinking and gambling, to be involved in quarrels, and to neglect the duties of their calling.
2. The dancing saloon is chiefly a source of danger to those who carry dancing to an excess, or who have already been led into sin by it.
In the art of dancing there is nothing evil or reprehensible; it is in itself nothing more or less than an innocent means of enjoyment and relaxation, and of promoting good feeling and friendly intercourse among men. Among the Jews the dance was often made a part of divine worship; we read that when the Ark of the Covenant was removed, David danced with all his might before the Lord (2 Kings vi. 14). The Hebrew maidens performed round or processional dances on many religious festivals (Judg. xxi. 21; Exod. xv. 20); and St. Basil and St. Gregory the Great state as their opinion that the angels move in the solemn measures of the dance before the throne of God in heaven. However the rule must be strictly observed of not dancing at prohibited times (in Advent or Lent) nor with persons of improper character (as is often the case at public balls), and of not taking part in dances which outrage modesty and decorum, as some do in the present day. Young people must, however, be warned against indulging in this amusement inordinately, as it has a tendency to arouse sensuality, to excite the passions, and lessen the sense of Christian modesty. Living as they did in heathen times, the Fathers of the Church denounced dancing in no measured terms. On the occasions of weddings, entertainments, or family gatherings, when dancing is proposed as the evening’s amusement, it would be unfriendly to refuse to take part. But those for whom dancing has often proved an occasion of sin, must if possible eschew it for the future; they may allege as an excuse that it is injurious to them.
3. The theatre is a source of danger to those who frequent it, because some theatres are a school of vice rather than of virtue.
When dramas of an elevating and edifying nature are put upon the stage, plays in which virtue and innocence triumph, and heroic devotion to religion, the love of one’s country, the love of one’s neighbor, are held up to admiration, and the misery and shame attendant upon crime depicted in its true colors, the theatre becomes a school of morals. But good plays are rare: they ill suit the taste of the present day; and often they would be acted to an empty house. The majority of plays, more especially on the continent of Europe, are of a questionable tendency; in France, in Italy, vice some illicit affection is often represented upon the stage as attractive and delightful, while virtue is uninteresting and despicable. Even the freethinker Rousseau says that in the theatre our evil propensities are too often fostered and encouraged, our power to resist the force of our passions is diminished, we learn to regard work as irksome, and useful employment as distasteful. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the heated atmosphere of a crowded house and the late hours are prejudicial to the health of the habitual play-goer.
4. Bad periodicals are dangerous to all who read them; their effect is to gradually undermine the faith and awaken discontent in the minds of those who read them regularly; and whoever takes such journals, declares himself an enemy to religion.
The society papers of the day pander to the popular taste. Scandals in high life, political feuds, animadversions on the conduct of prominent persons, sneers at religious ordinances, the defence of wrong-doers, such is the pabulum too often provided for the reader. The writers in such papers are frequently those who have fallen low in the social scale, and the editors are in many cases Jews. The Holy Father has said that a large proportion of the countless evils of the day and the unhappy condition of society are to be ascribed to the journals that issue from the press, and he exhorts the faithful to endeavor to counteract their corrupting influence by upholding those that are of an opposite tendency. Not only may this be done by subscribing to some Christian periodical, lending it to others, asking for it at reading-rooms and hotels, but by contributing letters and sending advertisements to journals of whose principles we approve. He who underrates the importance of the press displays little knowledge of the times in which he lives. The press is a gigantic power, especially since it has taken the telegraph and telephone into its service, and can thus supply the reader with the latest intelligence from all parts of the world. The daily papers are therefore taken in and eagerly read by all classes of society. And since, in addition to the latest news, they pronounce a verdict upon all questions of the day, concerning religion, politics, science, art, commerce, etc., the press is the great educator of the masses, the source whence the people derive their information and form their opinions. The press may well be said to be the organ of public opinion. Even as early as the commencement of the present century, when the press first began to be developed, the Emperor Napoleon spoke of it as a sixth great European power. He expressed himself thus because he was sensible of the influence exercised by the Rhine Mercury, which had just been started by Gorres. Hence we learn how important a duty it is to support and encourage the Catholic press.
5. Bad novels are dangerous to all, for the novel-reader ac quires a false and exaggerated view of life.
Indiscriminate novel-reading must be avoided, for a large proportion of works of fiction present poison in a golden goblet. Crime and vice, sins of immorality, are not only justified; they are arrayed in the most fascinating garb, depicted in the most charming colors. Thus they rouse and inflame the dormant passions of the human heart. A novelist once while being shown over a prison, was ad dressed by two young fellows. “You ought to be wearing these hand cuffs instead of us,” they said to him, “for it was through you that we got here.” Many works of fiction are, it is true, of a perfectly harmless character. But even at the best the habitual reader of romances is transported into an unreal world, and is rendered in capable of judging justly of the world of actuality. Books of general interest, such as the lives of saints and of distinguished personages are far preferable to romances, for the facts they contain bear the stamp of truth, and are much more improving to the mind than fiction is.
This article, VII. OCCASIONS OF SIN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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