On the Catholic Priesthood
“Woe to the world because of scandals...Woe to that man by whom scandal cometh” Matt XVIII 7
No man can live in society without influencing those among whom he lives. What he says and what he does is telling, all day long, in a variety of ways known and unknown, for good or for evil, upon those who bear his words and witness his actions.
This is especially true of the priest. He is set up on high, and lives in sight of the people. He is an object of curious interest for them in all the particulars of his daily life. He is observed; he is listened to; much more of him is known than he imagines, more of his utterances, of his habits, of the character of his thoughts and aspirations; so that, without being distinctly conscious of it, he may be very helpful or very harmful to those around him.
In the latter case the solemn warning of Our Lord applies to him with special emphasis: “ Woe to that man by whom scandal cometh.” It may come in many ways and in various degrees. It may, like the sin of the sons of Heli, be such as to keep the faithful from the house of God, or from the practices of Christian piety: “Erat peccatum filiorum Heli grande nimis coram Domino qui retrahebant homines a sacrificio Domini: I Reg. Ii, 17; or it may shock and surprise them as something out of keeping with sacerdotal character, and thereby diminish their trust in the Church and their respect for the priesthood; or again, it may be such as to disappoint them, and destroy their higher Christian ideals, as frequently happens when they find a priest very much like themselves, in some things, perhaps, not so good. For if a priest differs from the layman only by this sacred character and his official duties; if, in the ordinary course of life, he is just as eager as other men in the pursuit of place or emolument, or as hard and grasping, or as sensitive in his pride, as resentful and unforgiving, or as particular about his ease and comfort, how can the Christian conception of life keep its hold on those who naturally look to him for a practical illustration of it?
Still more is his influence harmful to those who live in closer contact with him, and in whose presence he throws off all artificial restraint, personal friends, relatives, domestic servants, fellow priests.
What an amount of real harm may be done to all these by the easy-going, tepid, worldly priest! What a powerful though silent and insensible encouragement to them to settle down on a low, comfortable level, amid the tangible realities of the present! How many young priests, alas! Have thus learned to discard salutary restraints, to neglect the blessed devotions of earlier years to waste their time on useless objects, to pamper the flesh, in a word, to despoil their lives of all supernatural beauty!
Source: Very Rev. John Baptist Hogan (1829-1901) Daily Thoughts for Priests (1899)