I. HUMAN RESPECT
Oh, how many souls has not human respect — that great enemy of our salvation — sent to hell! We cannot avoid seeing bad example and scandal unless, as St. Paul says, we go out of this world (1 Cor. v. 10). But it is in our power to avoid familiarity with those who give scandal and bad example. Hence the Apostle adds: But now I have written to you not to keep company … with such an one, not so much as to eat (1 Cor. v. 11). We should be beware of contracting intimacy with such sinners; for, should we be united with them in the bonds of friendship, we shall feel an unwillingness to oppose their bad practices and evil counsels. Thus through human respect and the fear of contradicting them, we shall imitate their example, and lose the friendship of God.
Such lovers of the world not only glory in their own iniquities — They rejoice in most wicked things (Prov. ii. 14) — but what is worse, they wish to have companions in wickedness, and ridicule all who endeavour to live like true Christians and to avoid the danger of offending God. This is very displeasing to God, and a sin He forbids in a particular manner: Despise not a man that turneth away from sin, nor reproach him therewith (Ecclus. viii. 6). Despise not those who keep at a distance from sin, and seek not to draw them to evil by your reproaches and your irregularities. The Lord declares that, for those who throw ridicule on virtuous people, chastisements are prepared in this and in the next life. Judgments are prepared for scorners, and striking hammers for the bodies of fools (Prov. xix. 29). They mock the servants of God, and He shall mock them in eternity. But the Lord shall laugh them to scorn. And they shall fall after this without honour, and be a reproach among the dead forever (Wis. iv. 18, 19). They endeavour to make the Saints contemptible in the eyes of the world, and God shall make themselves die unhonoured, and send them to hell to suffer eternal ignominy among the damned.
Not only to offend God, but even to endeavour to make others offend Him, is truly an enormous excess of wickedness. This execrable intention arises from a conviction that there are many weak and pusillanimous souls who, to escape derision and contempt, abandon the practice of virtue and give themselves up to a life of sin. After his conversion to God, St. Augustine wept for having associated with those agents of Lucifer, and confessed that formerly he felt ashamed not to be as wicked and as shameless as they were. How many, to avoid the scoffs of wicked friends, have been induced to imitate their wickedness. “Behold the Saint!” these impious scoffers will say; “get me a piece of his garment, I will preserve it as a relic. Why does he not become a monk?” How many also, when they receive an insult, resolve to take revenge, not so much through passion as to escape the reputation of being cowards? How many there are who, after having inadvertently given expression to a scandalous maxim, neglect to retract it (as they are bound to do), through fear of losing the esteem of others! How many, because they are afraid of forfeiting the favour of a friend, sell their souls to the devil! They imitate the conduct of Pilate, who, for fear of losing the friendship of Caesar, condemned Jesus Christ to death.
Brethren, if we wish to save our souls, we must overcome human respect and bear the little confusion which may arise from the scoffs of the enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ. For there is a shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that bringeth glory and grace (Ecclus. iv. 25). If we do not suffer this confusion with patience, it will lead us into the pit of sin; but if we submit to it for God’s sake, it will obtain for us Divine grace here, and great glory hereafter. “As bashfulness is praiseworthy in evil,” says St. Gregory, “so it is reprehensible in good.”
Some one will say: I wish to save my soul; why, then, should I be persecuted? But there is no remedy; it is impossible to serve God and not be persecuted. The wicked loathe them that are in the right way (Prov. xxix. 27). Sinners cannot bear the sight of the man who lives according to the Gospel, because his life is a continual censure of their own disorderly conduct; and therefore they say: Let us therefore lie in wait for the just; because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law (Wis. ii. 12). The proud man, who seeks revenge for every insult which he receives, would wish that all should avenge the offences that may be offered them. The avaricious, who grow rich by injustice, wish that all should imitate their fraudulent practices. The drunkard wishes to see others indulge like himself. The immoral, who boast of their impurities, and can scarcely utter a word which does not savour of obscenity, desire that all should act and speak as they do; and those who do not imitate their conduct, they regard as mean, clownish, and intractable — as men without honour and education. They are of the world, therefore of the world they speak (1 Jo. iv. 5). Worldlings can speak no other language than that of the world. Oh, how great is their poverty and blindness! It has blinded them, and therefore they speak so profanely. These things they thought, and were deceived; for their own malice blinded them (Wis. ii. 21).