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 preserving the integrity of faith as believers, especially when silence is itself scandalous?
The Lord Jesus provides a model for believers. The practical and simple nature of his word in this regard 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 normal way of looking at it. But, therein lies the duty inherent in God’s wish for us to be a reconciled and reconciling people.
It’s a Christian duty for us to forgive anyone who has sinned against us (more on this tomorrow). Regarding this particular text of Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, such as Saints John Chrysostom and Augustine, make us 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. This isn’t always possible since sometimes, the one who sins against us, or the offender, isn’t in proximity; or there could be concerns of grave danger to meet him or her privately. At least, in the private domain of our hearts, 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 Witnesses: When the private isn’t working out and the nature of what has been done is grave enough as 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 sin isn’t acknowledged or the person refuses to show remorse or be reconciled, the ecclesial community, the Church, should be notified about it. Meaning, that some sins, especially those of public nature, demand the decision of Church authorities; from the pastor in the parish to the Bishop in the diocese or even the Pope, if of universal implications.
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. This 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 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 him or her or to 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 wicked and against charity.
Pointing out evil, following the approach the Lord teaches for us, is an example of fulfilling the duty of forgiveness and the duty of charity as well.
I pray that God will give us the grace of fraternal correction, the kind that springs from charity. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday 19th Sunday A: Dt 34:1-12; Mt 18:15-20]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.