Sunday, October 01, 2006

How To Keep From Getting A Millstone-Necktie!

Good for grinding, but bad for neckties!

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 1, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 9: 38-48.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-sixth Sunday 2006]

Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Thus the title of this homily is, “How to keep from getting a millstone-necktie”!

Jesus explicitly says here that leading others into sin is the underlying problem: it’s the reason a person deserves to take a dip in the ocean with a millstone tied firmly around his neck. So, obviously, that’s where our focus needs to be this morning: on the ways we can lead others (consciously or unconsciously) into sin.

One way, certainly, that this can be done is through our actions. We can cause other people to sin by setting them a bad example, or by bringing them into situations where we know they will be severely tempted to do what’s wrong (like teenagers who take their friends to parties where their friends will be tempted to drink and engage in other immoral activities).

But another way we can lead people into sin is through our WORDS: by the things we say to them; by the instruction and advice we give them.

And that’s the point I challenge you to reflect on today: What kinds of things do you say to others? In other words, what type of advice and counsel do you give on a daily basis to your children, to other members of your family, to your co-workers, and to your friends?

Are you telling these people the right things—the good things they need to hear: things that will lead them closer to Christ and his kingdom?

Or are you telling them things that will lead them in the opposite direction and get you a millstone-necktie?

Consider some of the “pearls” of advice that are frequently given in our culture these days—sometimes by intelligent, well-meaning people. When they say these lines, they think they’re helping others, but they aren’t. They’re actually harming them by encouraging them—or by giving them permission—to sin!

For example:

  • “All religions are pretty much the same. They all basically teach the same things.” Has someone ever told you that before? This very common saying can easily lead someone into sin because it gives the person permission to shop around for a religion that he or she finds appealing. And since we all like to follow the path of least resistance, religions that “appeal” are usually those that condone immoral behavior! New Age religions, for example, are very popular nowadays precisely because they reject moral codes like the 10 Commandments.
  • “Everybody’s doing it, so don’t be too concerned.” That type of advice can make a person complacent in a sin they’ve already committed; or it can make a person more likely to commit a sin that they’ve been able to avoid so far.
  • “It’s your body, and you should be able to do whatever you want with it.” As we all know, since the 1960s that line has been used to justify everything from abortion to contraception to physician-assisted suicide. Consequently, in the last 40 or 50 years it has obtained millstone-neckties for many people here in our country and around the world.
  • “You don’t need to go to Mass every week; sometimes you’ve got other things to do that are more important.” Believe it not, many children come to me in Confession and tell me that their parents use that line on them all the time—sometimes almost every weekend! Another common saying with a similar message is this one: “You don’t need to go to Confession; you don’t do anything wrong. Besides, you’re not as bad as so-and-so.”
  • “The Church is old fashioned.” Variations of this saying are: “The Church needs to get with the times,” or “The Church needs to change and update her moral teaching”. I think it should be pretty obvious as to how those lines could lead another person into sin: if what the Church teaches is out of date, then obviously you can tune out the Church and live by your own rules.
  • “Even though it’s bad, you can handle it. It won’t affect you.” This is the line that “assures” people that they can view pornography, or abuse alcohol or drugs and then stop whenever they want to. It’s also the line that assures teenagers that they can listen to songs with vulgar lyrics and not be affected by the bad messages contained in those lyrics.
  • “Worry about your own needs; let others take care of themselves.” Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you do to me.” Our Lord makes it clear in that chapter that we will be judged at the end of our lives by our charity, as well as by our faith. The problem is, if you follow the advice of those who tell you to worry only about your own needs, you won’t be very charitable. And that sin—if it’s serious enough—will have eternal ramifications.

The title of this homily, as I mentioned earlier, is “How to keep from getting a millstone-necktie”. At this point, it should be clear: To keep from getting a necktie of stone, we must not lead others into sin either by our actions OR BY OUR WORDS! And we must be very careful about the latter, because words are very powerful. By our words we can point others to heaven, and by our words we have the potential to point others in the opposite direction.

“But, Father Ray, I’ve said some of those lines you mentioned a few moments ago. I’ve said them to my friends and relatives and co-workers. I thought I was helping them. I’ve also said other things to people that have encouraged them to do what’s wrong.”

Well, that is a problem—a very big problem—according to what Jesus says in this passage from Mark 9.

But fortunately it has a very simple solution. The solution is twofold. Step 1 involves a conversation. The conversation I’m referring to needs to begin in this way: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned”; and it needs to include this line: “I ask God’s forgiveness today because I have said and done things that have led my brothers and sisters into temptation and also into sin.”

Step 2 comes afterward; it comes after absolution is given. And it’s just as important as step 1. It involves going out and trying to undo the damage we’ve caused (to the extent that we can). That means we must admit we were wrong and correct the things we’ve said. I know that’s difficult to do, and it’s certainly humbling—but in the end it’s extremely rewarding. It’s rewarding because it helps us to get rid of our millstone-necktie for good; and it’s rewarding because it puts us—and those we love—squarely on the road to heaven, which I’ve been told is a place where everyone has beautiful white robes, and no one wears neckties!