Monday, August 11, 2014

The appearance standard

As Catholics we are subject to three laws: civil law, canon law, and the moral law. The violation of civil law is a crime. The violation of canon law is a delict. The violation of the moral law is a sin. But in the last twenty years or so, it seems we have become obsessed with appearances, and to the point of absurdity. People now want to criminalize the so-called appearance standard.

In the Catholic Church we have always understood something similar to, but deeper than "the appearance standard." We call it giving scandal. It comes from today's gospel. Jesus pays the temple tax not because he believes he owes it, but

In order that we not scandalize them

The problem is that the word has changed meanings. We think it means shock, or cause others to talk. The Christian concept has nothing to do with mere appearance. It's not about declaring something wrongs because "It doesn't look good." Me wearing a pair of shorts doesn't look good, but it is not scandalous.

The Greek word means to entrap, to trip up, to cause someone else to fall or stumble, to entice another person to sin. If I am out to dinner with a friend who is a newly recovering alcoholic, I would forego the glass of wine not because it is a sin to drink wine, but so as not to run the risk of enticing him. Because if I entice another person to sin then I have sinned.

The concept of scandal is real, and we should not trivialize it by reducing it to appearance. Each of us must ask, could my action even if not wrong, lead someone to commit a crime, a delict or sin. It is really an extension of the command to love your neighbor. We should not only avoid sin, but do all in our power to help others as well.