Grace to you!
It's not an easy thing to correct one another. Doing so in the spirit of the Gospel is even more difficult. In the face of evident sin or circumstances of evil closer to home, how do we do so while preserving the integrity of faith as believers, especially when silence is itself scandalous?
The Lord Jesus provides a model for believers. In this regard, the practical and straightforward nature of his word could make one gloss over the life-giving impact it has for anyone who accepts it.
The Lord says:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:15-18).
Observe that other than the obvious lesson for forgiveness and possible reconciliation; the Lord recommends the offended goes and tells the offender his or her fault. This is contrary to our usual way of looking at it. Therein lies the duty inherent in God's wish for us to be reconciled and reconciling people.
It's a Christian duty to forgive anyone who has sinned against us (more on this in tomorrow’s reflection). Regarding this particular text of Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, such as Saints John Chrysostom and Augustine, understand that it deals with ecclesiastical discipline. The lessons could be applied to other areas too.
The Lord presents to us at least four steps in our response to the duty of being instruments of forgiveness and reconciliation through fraternal correction.
Step one: Go private. It isn't always possible to meet in private since sometimes the one who sins against us, or the offender, isn't in proximity. Also, there could be concerns about grave danger to meet the person privately. At least, in our hearts' private domain, we must respond to this duty to forgive. It is spiritually healthy for the offended, even if not for the offender.
Step two: Get a handful of witnesses. When the private meeting isn't working out or possible, and the nature of what has been done is grave enough to cause more harm to the family, the community or the church, the Lord asks us to take one or two other people. Perhaps, those people could win the brethren back to reconciliation. Please select the right people.
Step three: Involve the Church. When the offender fails to acknowledge the sin or refuses to show remorse or seek reconciliation, the ecclesial community, the Church, should be notified about it. It means that some sins, especially those of a public nature, demand the decision of, if not a legitimate Church authority's response. The response could be from the pastor in the parish if it deals with parochial matters. It could be from the Bishop in the diocese as it pertains to his diocese. Or it may require a response from the Pope if the issue is of universal implications to the universal church.
Step four: Treat as Gentile and Tax Collector. Here, the authority lies with the Church leadership to provide that a person of public scandal be prevented from full communion, which we understand as receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It doesn't make us lose hope in the possibility of the person's repentance. We have to become his or her best intercessors. So we do not forget, recall how the Lord Jesus treated tax collectors and gentiles. He loved them even more and reached out to them. His best friends were sinners, gentiles and tax collectors. We, too, are to love them even more.
Love for the sinner inspires us to point the sins of the person to them or help prevent the person from being entrapped in evil. We do so in charity. No one should stand idly by and watch another venture into combusting fire or get drowned in the river. To do so is mean and against charity.
Pointing out evil, following the approach the Lord teaches us, is an example of fulfilling the duty of forgiveness and charity.
I pray that God will give us the grace of fraternal correction, the kind that springs from Christian love or charity. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday 19th Sunday A: Dt 34:1-12; Mt 18:15-20]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.