I caused some people to stumble, and they fell badly into sin because of me. I then repented, but they have not yet done so. I still see the fruits of my original fall in the lives of those other people. Is my repentance sufficient for me to be forgiven?
This is a difficult question, and one that can have a far-reaching effect. Essentially it is this:
A person who repented, but those who have sinned because of him did not repent, does that person still bear the responsibility of their sin?
This question shows us how far and how deeply, and to what extent, sin can personally affect someone. A person may have abandoned his sin, but it can still have an effect on others, an effect which that person can see before him at all times. He will be saddened and will suffer as a result of this, and feel the extent of his responsibility for it. So what can he do?
He could conceivably do his utmost to try and get those others, whom he caused to fall, to repent. But what if they do not?
He can act for himself, but what can he do about the others? Obviously such a person will live a sad and painful life for a long time. Any joy that his repentance might have brought him, would not be able to make up for the pain that he feels on seeing the ruinous effects of his sin on others, especially if they have really turned out for the bad, or perished.
It is possible that the words, ‘life for life.’ loom before him, so that he cries out to God, saying: “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation ” (Ps. 51:14).
He may try to do whatever he can on behalf of the others, though he may not be able to do anything. Furthermore, his resuming contact with the others, may well be dangerous to him, and it may be best for him to keep well away from them lest he should be ruined as well.
Perhaps those whom he has caused to fall have themselves caused many others to fall too, so that the circle has widened. Besides the direct results of the sin, there are also indirect results. Is it not true that we cannot calculate the extent of our sins, and the degree of their influence?
The first piece of advice I would give the questioner is to be really and truly contrite, and humble himself before God, praying for the souls of the others, that God may send them help to be saved.
Let him also set for himself days of fasting demanding from the Church prayers in the Holy Mass and making prostrations, on their behalf. And let him cry copious tears for their sakes, and remind himself of what the Lord said: ” Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” (Matt. 18:7) Let him ask for repentance for all those people, and let him act on their behalf, even if it is somehow indirectly, and send them guides or Father Confessors.
And he who has repented will not perish because of them. Our example of this is St. Mary the Copt (Egyptian).
In the early part of her life, before she repented, she caused many thousands to stumble, and some may have perished because of her. But with her sincere and true repentance, she became a great saint, and she was forgiven for her past sins.
We must not forget, either, that those who fall into sin have willingly and knowingly entered into it, and consequently the full responsibility for their fall does not entirely rest on the person who caused them to stumble.
In fact they responded to the stumbling block and accepted it. Nevertheless, the one who urged them into sin, could say to himself: They are really weak, and have fallen, but it was I who provided the inducement for their weakness, and I didn’t show consideration or pity for their lack of willpower. I should have protected them, and strengthened them, and not been the reason for them to fall. if it hadn’t been for me, they might never have fallen.
This person is like a car driver who has run somebody over, and has caused that person to be permanently disabled, who, even though he has said that he is sorry for what he has done, and God has forgiven him, whenever he sees or thinks about the one whom he has crippled, feels very unhappy.
This sadness, however, would obviously help make his repentance even more acceptable.