This will prove an important lesson to our young people, for the young are more easily led: the youth will do anything in which he finds encouragement, especially if it flatters the senses. Not only did Our Lord warn us against heretics and unbelievers whom He might place first among false prophets and who teach errors to the people, but we can apply these words also to people who are Christians by name only and otherwise are corrupted by bad principles and lead bad lives. These nominal Christians are so well disguised that the wolf appears as a lamb. They are really more to be feared than the devil himself. It is important then to study the ways of these false lambs; you will sometimes see them act in a very holy manner; they go to Mass and consider themselves better than the rest of mankind; their good works are done to secure the praise of men not for the glory of God; their principles are wrong; they say that the young should have a good time and all liberty should be allowed them; parties, balls, picnics, theatres; in fact, that they must sow their wild oats, and that they will make better men and women if they have been wild. Such talk is nonsensical. Supposing these principles were of general use, where would it all end? and what a dreadful state all young people would be in!
These people will say, too, that you are now getting big and are no longer helpless infants, that you have certain rights that every one in authority must respect. Obedience to parents is not so necessary, and blind obedience to the Church and its authority is stupid. They will tell you that your parents are old fogies, with antiquated notions; that in our modern days many things have been changed; that these unbearable old people, with their continual complaints, need not be heeded, for they have neither reason nor common sense on their side.
They say, Church authorities, too, have no right to search into every action, for they are too strict. These false prophets consider that sin is not so great an evil as it is represented by priests; that it is a little forbidden fun, indeed, but sweeter because stolen; and in this way you are led by degrees into considering your transgressions as light. Instead of being innocent little angels, yon are now experienced in wickedness. These false prophets approach, most readily the innocent lambs that have never been corrupted by sin; those who strive to belong to God, and those who are very devout to the Blessed Virgin.
St. Bernard of Siena was a very amiable character, and of most agreeable manners; some wicked companions tried to persuade him to do wrong, and thus lose the great treasure of
the grace of God; but the holy youth soon noticed it, and with tears in his eyes he begged God's pardon; and he was on his guard for the future. Not only be on your guard against those who are covered with sheep's clothing go further than that even; be on your guard against bad Christians who do not assume any disguise, but appear to be as bad as they can; their principle is, that those who do not know how to enjoy the world, or are afraid to enjoy it, are really to be pitied.
There once lived in Lancaster, England, a young man of a noble and virtuous family, who was well brought up and well educated; as long as he was a pure boy, he was good; but as he advanced in years and in his classes, he came in contact with bigger boys, who were unrestrained in their language and bold in their intercourse with others. Their manners seemed to our young hero to be the very perfection of manhood; he lost all taste for quietness and modesty, from mere talk he went further and committed acts of uncleanness, at first with qualms of conscience, but in a short time he was known as one of the worst in that neighborhood. Such things happen every day, and this is the way in which
So far I have considered you innocent lambs, which I hope you are, and will always remain; for that reason I have repeatedly cried out, "Be on your guard against the cruel wolves who appear in sheep's clothing." But may there not be such wolves among you? What can I say to you, miserable beings, who have taken upon yourselves the office of the devil and seek to ruin souls? "You have your father the devil, and you do the will of your father the devil, who was a murderer of souls from the beginning." How great is the crime of which you are guilty! Had you taken the life of the body, what a monster you would be; but you have done a great deal worse ^you have ruined a soul and sent it to hell. Let me continue the picture: suppose that in your fury against all good people, you should arm yourself with a dagger, and on Sunday, coming to church, plunge it into the heart of a young man who has just received holy communion; it would be a horrible crime, but what harm would you do his soul?
None that we can see, for his soul would go to heaven, with Jesus in its bosom. But, on the contrary, suppose the wicked young fellow accosted this pious youth after communion, and led him into sin, with Our Lord in his heart what harm would he then do? A great and terrible harm, for he would then be the occasion of the spiritual death of this youth. How terrible would be the curses of this unhappy boy, suffering in the fire of hell, against his wicked seducer, nor would he cease to utter them for all eternity.
The sin of scandal is for that reason so awful, because its consequences continue for all time. "Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless wo to that man by whom the scandal cometh. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." They who give scandal may expect the most tremendous chastisements of God, unless they make reparation in time.
The person who reflects seriously on this would be inclined to fly from the world and hide himself in prayer in a desert, like St. Benedict, who, while young and pursuing his studies, saw the danger, and preferring to be ignorant and virtuous, rather than to be learned and wicked, began with thirty companions to lead a monastic life.
How are sins and vices propagated? They certainly do not all come from a corrupt heart. No; the heart is corrupted by exterior influences and circumstances, through scandal. These wolves in sheep's clothing cause it. But supposing you have been guilty of scandal, how are you to rectify it? You must make reparation. Let me give you an example of a woman who had given scandal. The young man whom she had led astray was murdered at the very door of her house. " What a miserable creature I am," she said. "This blood cries against me for vengeance. I will go and do such public and severe penance that every one will be edified."
It is very easy to give scandal; a bad word, an act or a gesture may suffice to encourage others to fall into sin. Then do not think lightly of your exterior conduct; regulate it and watch over it with such solicitude that you will not lead others into sin or into the ways of a careless life.
"Every tree that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire."
"Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of my Father, who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."
And certainly it is not doing the will of God to ruin souls. If you have given scandal, pray fervently at the foot of the cross and do penance all your life. This the holy King David did, after his great fall into sin:
"I will teach the unjust Thy ways, and the wicked shall be converted to Thee."
Source: Sermons for Chidren's Masses, Imprimatur 1900