Spiritual theologians often have cautioned Christians about relying on visions. St. John of the Cross…
Opening the Word: For the sake of charity
One of the obvious effects of the Fall is the bitterness I experience in my heart when corrected by my spouse, my friend or colleague. Even the simplest correction often provokes in me disgust against the one offering the critique.
There is an irrational dimension to this dismissal. Why do we hate our fellow Christian for revealing to us a truth? If we curse too often, drink too much or gossip against our neighbor, then we should view fraternal correction as a gift.
But we rarely do. Like Adam and Eve, we evade the truth of our sinfulness, shifting the blame elsewhere. It’s not my fault. It’s yours.
Of course, we’re not always wrong to be wary of such corrections. After all, those who correct us may (and often do) take a perverse delight in our fallenness. They offer the correction not as a healing medicine but as a way of highlighting their own excellence vis-à-vis our infirmity. They think to themselves, “At least, I’m not like that disaster of a human being.”
|September 6 – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time|
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Jesus, as he often does in the Gospel, bestows to us a medicine that heals our sinfulness. Rather than sidestep our propensity for evasion, Jesus forces us to deal with it head-on.
If a brother sins against us, we are supposed to talk to that brother both directly and alone. The one corrected is to receive this healing word as a gift. The one bestowing the correction is not to experience schadenfreude, a delight in the suffering of one’s sinful neighbor. The conversation is to be private, rather than a public occasion to fan the flames of gossip.
Now, Our Lord describes what we are to do if our brother does not respond gracefully to the correction. But, at least for now, let us imagine that the brother does respond well to the correction. He professes his sinfulness, recognizing his poverty before God and neighbor. What has happened?
The gift of this correction is not just that a sin has been remedied. Rather, charity has been built up within the Church. The triune God has mediated the grace of conversion not through a zap out of the sky but through the community of the Church.
Dear friends, the law that governs all our relations is love. This love is not a vague feeling of affection for fellow members of Christ’s body. It is a concrete love, one that longs for the healing of one’s fellow citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem.
There is much for us to learn related to Our Lord’s wisdom about fraternal correction. Scan through the newspaper or a social media newsfeed. Correction, rather than private, has become a public spectacle.
There is no possibility of conversion and forgiveness. The public shaming must be public so that it’s permanent. It must be public so that it’s violent. It must be public so that we (the righteous) can celebrate our own goodness against them. Against those ones.
These corrections are not opportunities for love but intended to invoke blame and shame. When this approach to correction seeps into the Church (as it has in the Twitter accounts of clergy and the baptized faithful alike), we do harm to Christ’s body. We perpetuate the cycle of sin inaugurated by Adam and Eve.
Start with yourself. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (cf. Ps 95:8).
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.