Father Faber on “Taking Scandal”

In one of the Conferences published in an 1858 collection entitled Spiritual Conferences, Fr. Frederick William Faber of the London Oratory chose the topic On Taking Scandal. Addressing an audience of English Catholics, many of them converts like himself, he dissects the curious ways in which religious people in particular relish in the emotional satisfaction of taking scandal at the wrong-doing, actual or suspected, of others.  He says:

To give scandal is a great fault, but to take scandal is a greater fault.  It implies a greater amount of wrongness in ourselves, and it gives a greater amount of mischief to others. Nothing gives scandal sooner than a quickness to take scandal.  They regard it as a sort of evidence of their own goodness, and of their delicacy of conscience; while in reality it is only a proof either of their inordinate conceit, or of their extreme stupidity…Moreover the persons in question seem frequently to feel and act, as if their profession of piety involved some kind of official appointment to take scandal. It is their business to take scandal.  It is their way of bearing testimony to God.  It would show a blameable inertness in the spiritual life, if they did not take scandal.  They think they suffer very much while they are taking scandal; whereas in truth they enjoy it amazingly.  It is a pleasurable excitement, which delightfully varies the monotony of devotion.  They do not in reality fall over their neighbor’s fault, nor does it in itself hinder them in the way of holiness, nor do they love God less because of it, all of which ought to be implied in taking scandal.  But they trip themselves up on purpose, and take care that it shall be opposite some fault of their neighbor, in order that they may call attention to the difference between him and themselves.

Dwelling on the wickedness of others, in other words, does not make us virtuous.  I would add that it could even make us worse because a person can easily fall into self-justification of one’s own faults and sins on the excuse that, “well, what I do is nothing compared to….

Father Faber points out in this same conference that “taking scandal” is not a characteristic of the lives of the Saints.

I do not remember to have read of any saint who ever took scandal… Every time we take scandal we run a great risk of sinning, and a manifold risk as well as a great one.  We run the risk of impairing God’s glory, of dishonoring our Blessed Lord, of giving substantial scandal to others, of breaking the precept of charity ourselves, of highly culpable indiscretion, and, at the very least, of grieving the Holy Spirit in our own souls.

So then, what is the proper spiritual disposition we should strive to cultivate when we are confronted by undoubted facts of wickedness, and if we are to avoid “taking scandal” in the pharisaic way which Fr. Faber preached against during his lifetime in the High Victorian Age? It is our own co-operation with grace in our continuing conversion to Christ.

This is perfection, this is the temper and genius of saints and saint-like men. It is a life of desire, oblivious of earthly things.  It is a radiant energetic faith, that man’s slowness and coldness will not interfere with the success of God’s glory.  Yet all the while it is instinctively fighting, by prayer and reparation, against evils… No shadow of moroseness ever falls over the bright mind of a saint. It is not possible that this should do so.  Finally, perfection has the gift of entering into the universal spirit of God, who is worshipped in so many different ways, and is content.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for September 2, 2018)

A Month of “Respect for Life”

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for October 2, 2016)

In the United States each year the Month of October is designated as the particular month of the year in which we ought, as Catholics, to focus on the “Life Issues”.  Our Christian Catholic faith and our supernatural view of things enable us to recognize human life as a great good, possessing an essential value which nothing can take away.

This essential value of human life applies to each individual human life as well as to humanity as a whole.  Human life cannot be reduced or downgraded to its practical utility.  There is no such thing as “life unworthy of life”, as the advocates of euthanasia and sterilization of the disabled in the early 20th century claimed.

Each human being, possessing an immortal soul, is a unique, special creation of God and infinitely loved by Him.  Every person should be helped to understand this about himself: you are a unique, special creation of God and infinitely loved by Him.  You are not a “mistake”.  Your essential value does not depend on the circumstances of your origins.  You do not lose your value by becoming a “burden” on others.

Yes, we come to this conclusion on the absolute value of each human life as a matter of Christian faith-belief.  But that is nothing to apologize for!  Its truth is still engraved in every heart, and if we are faithful in bearing witness to it in the “public square”—and do it in the manner of the charity of Christ—then others will recognize it too.

It was Pope John Paul II who framed the contemporary debate in terms of the “Culture of Life” versus the “Culture of Death”.  This is an inspired juxtaposition.  We can easily be distracted in policy debates by the utilitarian arguments (e.g., having too many disabled people in society is a drain on public resources), or the anti-human philosophical ideas which abound (e.g., in order to preserve the eco-system of the planet, the human presence on the earth must be drastically reduced).

Stewardship of the earth and the organization of society with a just allocation of goods are indeed part of the challenge in building up a Culture of Life, but their claims cannot be allowed to supersede the intrinsic value of each and every human life.

During this Month of October, both from the pulpit and in my Pastor’s Note, I will be emphasizing the “Life Issues”.  There is so much “Culture Smog” that it is easy for us to become numbed to what is at stake.  The whole spectrum of the Life Issues is vast but I will enumerate some:

We come from God and we are going back to God over the course of this brief life’s journey.  Let us not fail to recognize the great dignity we have as special creations of God the Heavenly Father.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.  And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?  Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.  This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

—Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Part II: The Gates of Life

Part III: The Primary Moral Duty of Keeping Oneself Alive

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for March 6, 2016

This week’s bulletin for Mary Immaculate of Lourdes, Newton:
Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for the week of March 6, 2016Bulletin: MaryImmaculate-2016-03-06.pdf

FRONT COVER: The nave of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church. (Photo by Tatiana Blanco.)

Today, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, is traditionally known as “Laetare Sunday”, an anticipation of the Easter joy to come.  We are at Mid-Lent Sunday: two weeks away from Palm Sunday and three from Easter.

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The Public Life of Jesus: From Jordan’s Bank to Jerusalem

Conference II

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for February 28, 2016)

This is Part Two of this year’s Parish Lenten Mission, THE PUBLIC LIFE OF JESUS: FROM JORDAN’S BANK TO JERUSALEMClick here to read Part One.

How did people look upon this Man, Jesus of Nazareth? It is very evident that people considered His place of origin, Nazareth, as reason alone to reject Him? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael (Bartholomew), one of the future Twelve Apostles asks disparagingly when he first hears of “Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46). And even in His place of origin Nazareth itself, the people of that obscure, impoverished village look down on Jesus the son of Joseph the carpenter as “beneath” them, or at least as no-one they could ever take seriously as a miracle-working rabbi, unless, maybe, He were to start performing wonders right there in front of them.

Several months after Jesus has inaugurated His Public Life, when He comes back to the synagogue at Nazareth, He is violently rejected. People are murmuring: “How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?…” (Matthew 13:54b-55a) Why—He had not passed through the training of any Rabbinic school under a learned Master! “How doth this man know letters, having never learned?”

The “Carpenter’s Son”. In context this is a term used to describe the general work of a man who has to earn his daily bread by the strength of his own arms and whatever skill he may possess with his tools. St. Justin Martyr is the ancient source for stating that Jesus specially made “ploughs and yokes” (Contra Tryphon 88). Then, as ever, people make the most superficial judgments based on a man’s social standing and material good fortune. The lowliness of Jesus’ origins was a stumbling block to many, and played no small part in inciting the organized hatred of His enemies later on.

His ordinariness—which we who have the Christian faith gaze at in wonder: God’s condescension to us and His compassion—deflated the popular imagination of what the Great Messiah was going to be like. “We know this man, whence he cometh: but when the Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.” (John 8:27) It was, of course, not known at the time, all that had transpired around Jesus’ Birth. This was Mary’s secret, only to be revealed later in the time of the Church: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

John the Baptist, who had begun his preaching mission a few months before Jesus, at least had the aura of an other-worldly Man-of-God. No-one knew of John’s origins: he had suddenly appeared out of the desert, an utterly strange man. “John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto the remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all they of Jerusalem and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 3:6) His appearance co-incided with the time of Daniel’s Prophecy as to when the Messiah should at last appear, so the people were in great expectation. Many held John to be the Messiah, although John denied that he was anything more than his herald who had come to prepare the way.

So great was people’s attachment to John the Baptist that his mission only gradually decreased in favor of Jesus of Nazareth. For much of the first year of Jesus’ Public Life, John the Baptist’s Mission is still going on concurrently. Four times John gives explicit testimony in favor of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and not himself. It is John who sends Jesus his first disciples from out of his own group, one of these being Andrew, the future Apostle and the brother of Simon Peter. Even after John’s murder at the order of Herod’s son Herod Antipas, and even after the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles after Pentecost, a core group of John the Baptist’s followers tenaciously remained together, revering John and not transferring their allegiance to Jesus as the Christ.

The religious attachment to John the Baptist apart from Christianity has survived twenty centuries to our own day in the country of Iraq, among a sect called the Mandeans. Driven from their homeland by the recent strife a number of Mandean refugees have re-located in, all of places, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Whereas John was other-worldly and mysterious, Jesus was, to all appearances, an ordinary man, embedded in their everyday, ordinary world. He was so much a Jewish man of the Galilee. And while John lived a life of extreme deprivation, Jesus’ example was one of ordered enjoyment of life when He was in public.

Take, for example, the Wedding Feast at Cana. “And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples to the marriage.” (John 2:1-2) Jesus was a guest at a large wedding feast. We cannot even imagine John the Baptist being there.

We also see here Jesus’ attachment to His kinfolk. In this time and place, a wedding feast is the gathering of the whole clan. It is no wonder that the bridal couple ran out of wine, given the demand that this event must have made on their hospitality. And it is here, as we know, that Jesus performs His first public miracle, at the behest of Mary, His mother.

“And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to Him: they have no wine.” (John 2:3) He changes the gallons of ordinary water which had been poured into the large stone pots reserved for the Jewish ritual purifications into the finest of wines. “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)

This first Public Miracle of Christ is also the ruling metaphor for what the whole Redemption of Christ is going to accomplish in the souls of those who will come to have faith in Him. He will take that “water” of ordinary, broken, and unredeemed human nature, and by His grace He will transform it and make it capable of sharing in the very life of God.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish in Newton, MA. Parish bulletin archives, theological articles, and historical information.