An "occasion" is "A particular time or instance of an event". It is merely an opening to do a certain act. Since we do not sin except by our own will (however slight), an occasion of sin is a circumstance may be a cause of sin.
When it comes to sin, the occasion can be complex. Given that sin is an inward act, anything can be an occasion of sin and this will be addressed shortly. However, there are two general types:
- Remote Occasion: An occasion of sin which is merely an occasion and does not entice or appeal in any way to an individual (ie, being in the presence of another person is an occasion to commit murder, because without another person, the act of murder cannot exist)
- Proximate Occasion: An occasion of sin which particularly appeals or entices one to commit a sin (ie, reading overtly blasphemous works for the sake of entertainment)
Whether a given sin involved a remote or proximate occasion can be debated. Also, the necessity of being in a given possible occasion of sin complicates the matter. One can easily deceive oneself and self analysis cannot be addressed by a third party perfectly. The guidance of a spiritual director is necessary to resolve specific questions or concerns one has.
What is clear is that easily avoidable proximate occasions of sin are to be avoided. To do otherwise is extremely foolish and dangerous and it is a grave matter and a potential mortal sin. That is an easy thing to write, but it is not so easy in practice most of the time. Except for those able to withdraw from the world to a degree to which most are not called, we have necessary situations which may be proximate occasions of sin. Therefore, we cannot fully avoid them all.
Dealing with unavoidable proximate occasions of sin is a troublesome issue we must constantly face, but the biggest danger is when we are blind to them.
That is the first important thing: to be mindful of occasions of sin and to treat them as such and avoid all proximate occasions of sin which we can avoid according to our state in life.
When one examines one's life, examining occasions of sin and our responses to them will be necessary. Willfully and knowingly subjecting oneself to a proximate occasion of sin without necessity should be treated as any other potentially grave sin: it should be confessed, absolved, and one should resolve to do penance and to amend one's life. As one improves one's awareness and will to avoid sin, one will be able to prune occasions of sin, and therefore many sins, from ever being potentially committed. And for necessary occasions of sin, such as being around the increasingly pervasive immodest and blasphemous elements of this world which are found in all aspects of the worldly life, one should strive to properly prepare oneself to avoid sinning as one cannot avoid the occasions.
As we work towards avoiding sin in response to unavoidable occasions of sin, the second important thing naturally arises: to be mindful of oneself being an occasion of sin for others and conduct oneself properly to avoid being an occasion of the spiritual ruin of another. This subject is another topic, that of scandal. There are two types of scandal and the distinction between them is extremely important.
A scandal can be an active scandal or a passive scandal. Concisely defined:
- Active scandal is when a person’s evil acts or evil words or words or acts which appear evil are the occasion of sin for another.
- Passive scandal is when a person’s acts or words are an occasion of sin of another because of the other person’s evil disposition.
Passive scandal is a sin in the person scandalised and active scandal is a sin in the person causing scandal. Those who are scandalised by Christ’s words, the teachings of the Church, or people following them are sinning by their own will. Distinction between active scandal and passive scandal is important for understanding the scriptures.
As written, anything can be an occasion of sin. Even Christ was an occasion of sin:
As it is written: Behold I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and a rock of scandal; and whosoever believeth in him shall not be confounded.
Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
The word is from the Greek and it just means a thing which causes another to stumble. That is, it is a thing which impedes another. The impediment is to Spiritual Perfection. Anything which is a scandal is a potential impediment to someone's spiritual perfection. The difference between the two types is that an active scandal is a sin for the person committing the act which is the cause of spiritual ruin and a passive scandal is a sin for the person who stumbles. To do, encourage, glorify, or otherwise appear evil in a way which may lead another astray is to commit an active scandal and it is a sin. However, to do, encourage, glorify, or otherwise appear good in a way which another uses as an occasion of sin to reject God, blaspheme, or otherwise be evil is a sin for the person who has found scandal.
For us, this means that we will be occasions of sin for others. If we are holy, the world will reject us in some fashion and use our holiness as the occasion of many sins. If we are evil, then we are occasions of sin for those who would not otherwise be potentially endangered by our conduct. It is also important to note that committing an active scandal is still a sin even if no one sins because of it. Committing an evil act is a sin. Having that sin be an occasion of sin for anther is another sin.
The importance of being holy not only for our sake, but for the sake of others, is high. Every being is responsible for their own actions and by the grace of God salvation is possible and when we fall the offense against God is greater if we are an occasion for others to fall as well. We are to pray for our own salvation and by charity for the salvation of others, not impede what is holy.