Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fraternal Correction

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2,6-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

In the summer of 2005 I had the opportunity to go to North Carolina for the summer to be a camp counselor at a boys wilderness camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent the first week doing orientation and training for my particular area of work – caving. Near the end of that week one of the other counselors with whom I had been hanging out took me aside and said this to me. “Brent, I came up here hoping to have a great summer with these kids and growing to be a better man in the process and I think you came here to do the same, so I say this hoping that you’ll hear this as someone wanting to help you with that.” Then he looked at me and said, “You are studying to be a priest and I respect that, but in the past week we’ve been here I have to say that I think you’re the most negative person I’ve ever met.” When I heard those words it was like something had pierced my heart. I stood there dumbfounded at what my friend had just said. And yet as the weeks went on, I came to realize that him telling me that was one of the most charitable things anyone had ever done for me because he showed me the truth that I need to hear. I didn’t want to hear it, but I needed to.

When we think of being charitable to others, it’s easy to simplify things and say that it’s just being nice, doing good deeds and saying kind words. But true charity is much more than any of those things. It is loving the other as ourselves and desiring what is best for them. And sometimes the best thing for someone is the thing that can be the most difficult thing to embrace: the truth.

As we listen to the scriptures we hear the Lord calling us to reach out to others and to show them love, to be charitable, by telling them the truth. Every one of us has an obligation to help our brothers and sisters by showing them the things in their life that are not in accord with God’s will, to help them see their own sinfulness and to repent from it. In the reading from Ezekiel we see that so great is our responsibility to encourage others in the way of holiness that if we don’t do so then we can actually be held accountable for their sins! It might seem odd to say that one person is accountable for something someone else did, but it is true and the Church actually points out nine ways that we can participate in the sin of others: by counseling them to pursue a sinful action, by telling them to do it, by approving of it, by provoking it, by praising them for it, by concealing it, by actually taking part in it, by defending the sinful action and, more appropriate to our readings today, by being silent or feigning ignorance of the sin. To do nothing when faced with evil is to participate in it, even if only slightly. Part of our obligation to help others turn from sin is to be sure that we ourselves do not join in it, but more importantly than doing it for ourselves, we ought to do it out of love for them.

It would not be charitable to see a blind man walking toward a hazardous area where he might be injured and do nothing; rather, charity demands that we go to him and help him to change course in a safer direction. The same applies in the spiritual life. When we see someone falling into sin or having a certain fault, then we ought to be compelled out of love for that person to reach out to them and let them know what we see. This, as the gospel says, must be done personally and not in the midst of a crowd. Rather, we must go to them as a brother and sister and show our love for them and let them know that we desire what is best for them and for that reason we speak the truth as we see it. In doing this, we must constantly be mindful of Saint Paul’s reminder that love does no evil, so we must also be sure that our correction will not do more harm than good. To give fraternal correction to someone is not to make ourselves feel better or to make them feel worse, but rather to simply love the other and help them to grow closer to Our Lord Jesus.

The challenge now is to pray for the courage to be able to reach out to other in love and truth, but most of all, to be humble enough to hear that same truth when others come to us to speak that word of truth.