In today’s gospel (Luke 17:1-6), Jesus has some warnings for his followers. He tells them it is inevitable that sin will occur, but woe to the one through whom sin occurs. “It would be better for him,” Jesus says, “if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” Then comes the warning: “Be on your guard!”
This teaching of Our Lord pertains to the topic of scandal. A “scandal,” properly speaking, is something that causes someone to stumble. For example, if a child sees her father skipping church on Sunday, it may influence her to skip church as well, in imitation of her father. If that father could somehow conceal his violation of the 3rd commandment, he might prevent his daughter from being scandalized. If we are going to sin, it would be better to avoid scandal by keeping our sins hidden from people who might want to imitate us.
Flipping this teaching around, we see that another way to avoid scandal is to steer clear of things that might scandalize ourselves! We should not imagine that we are 100% immune to all scandalous influence. That would be the height of pride. In all humility, we should accept that there are some things that have a negative impact upon us, and try to avoid them. This is why ancient Christian bishops exhorted their people to avoid the gladiatorial games. This is also why St. Ignatius promoted what he called “the discernment of spirits.” May God’s grace help us to seek good influences and to avoid bad ones, and to be a positive influence in the lives of others.