Talking about sin is not exactly a surefire way to win a popularity contest. Good thing the path to holiness is not a popularity contest! In fact, He promised that it wouldn’t be, both in word (especially in the Beatitudes) and indeed (at His Crucifixion).
But isn’t there a kind of cognitive dissonance to refuse to talk about sin? I mean – it’s not hard to look around and see that everything is not okay in the world… and, on a personal level, we KNOW when we’ve done something bad.
Our conscience just pricks us. So, no, the Catholic Church is not obsessed with sin, and neither am I, but it’s helpful sometimes to examine the topic a little more carefully, especially where nuances apply, and concerning areas, we might not have thought about.
Today I’d like to discuss the notion of “being accessory to another’s sin.” An old-fashioned idea and phrase, perhaps, but worthy of our consideration if we wish to be on the personal path to holiness, and to draw those around us closer to God, as well.
Obviously, we do not live in a vacuum (where I’m immune to what’s around me and vice-versa). Rather, we live, necessarily and by design, in a particular context. We influence and are influenced by those people around us, to a greater or lesser degree. Distilled down to a very simple level, we are either helping or harming.
Scraping along with the bare minimum of virtue is not going to get us to heaven, and it sure isn’t inspiring. Indeed, it’s an attitude that really doesn’t make sense at all to the Catholic. It’s simply not good enough for us to mind our own business and pat ourselves on the back for “being a good person” if we know better, and if we want to truly spread the gospel in the hearts of our friends and in the world around us.
So, without further ado, the following list is taken from the New Roman Missal by Father Lasance, with Imprimaturs in 1937 and 1945. Where appropriate, we have added scripture verses and other resources to help you consider these points more deeply.
Nine Ways of Being Accessory to Another’s Sin
1. By counsel
In other words, we should never urge someone to do something ill-advised or sinful.
2. By command
Or, in other words, don’t force someone to do something sinful.
“But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 2:8).
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! (Matthew 18:6-7).
3. By consent
Giving someone permission or telling them it’s okay to do something sinful is, itself, a sin on our part.
4. By provocation
We must be careful to never provoke someone into sin, for example, by teasing someone for not joining us in bad behavior, or by irritating someone to the point that he punches you, or by introducing some topic of conversation that draws your friend into gossip.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Romans 14:13).
5. By praise or flattery
By flattering a person’s pride, or any sort of praise for an action on the part of another that itself was sinful. By puffing up the ego of someone we know to be in error.
6. By concealment
By covering up for a friend’s sin. That doesn’t mean you go around blabbing about it, of course, but deliberately trying to hide it is cause for your own sin.
7. By partaking
This one explains itself, no?
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:10-13).
8. By silence
In other words, by failing to admonish, warn, correct, instruct or rebuke. This is a really tough one, I know. In an age when it’s hard to walk out the door and not be confronted by institutional and individual sin, scandal, and bad influence. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson says below, “it’s not safe to speak. Pick your poison. Tell the truth and see what happens.” When you do speak the truth, you risk alienating people and worse. But when you don’t speak against sin, you risk your own spiritual well-being.
9. By defense of the ill done
When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, And you associate with adulterers (Psalm 50:18).
But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-19).