St Francis Q&A

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fraternal correction

Welcome to our summer seminarian, Anthony Lickteig, who will be with us until the end of August. He may be making an occasional post on here while he is with us.

The following is an anonymous comment to my post on May 20, “How to be a Better Catholic”, which laid out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (one of which is the admonishment of sinners):

“On the admonishment of sinners- When you know a person is:Committing a sin, over and over, weekend after weekend (the same self focused behavior) setting what I believe is a very poor example for his/her teenage children and friends, attends church and accepts the Eucharist weekly, knows and understands the Ten Commandments (in my opinion), is not real gentle, forgiving, understanding or welcoming of criticism, is an acquaintance you will have to "chit chat" with from time to time (job related, kid related), is it really our place to admonish them for their sin? I discuss my viewpoint on the behavior with my own kids, but also say, “To each his own, it’s not our place to judge.” If I were to admonish the sinner, I feel as if I am being judgmental and am teaching my children to be judgmental. Even if admonished in my own silence, or within my own home, Who are we to judge? God is the ultimate judge, knows all and is the person a sinner is ultimately accountable to. It’s their conscience, their choice and their eternal salvation that’s at stake. It’s simply a matter of time, on God’s clock. Thoughts anyone?”

We can look to the three legs (Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium) of the chair of our faith to know that admonishing sinners is an act of charity and mercy. First, there are many instances in Sacred Scripture that speak of fraternal correction – e.g. Lev 19:17, 2 Kings 12:1-14, James 5:20, 2 Tim 4:2. In the Gospels, Christ commanded us to rebuke our brother if he sins (Lk 17:3, Mt 18:15). Christ is Love, so it is a command from Love to rebuke our neighbor who is sinning. He warns us in Mt 25:45 that what we don’t do is a sin of omission: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me”. Second, our tradition reveals many instances of the saints who advocated the admonishment of sinners – St Paul, St James, etc. Finally, as I indicated in my post, the Magisterium of the Church lists the admonishment of sinners as a spiritual work of mercy.

You are certainly correct when you say that it’s not our place to judge people. We can judge actions, but not people. And as Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium teach us, we are called to approach people with charity about their sinful actions. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is one of the guiding maxims of our faith. You obviously love this person and hate what he (or she) is doing because you care enough to write a comment about him. If you didn’t love him, you wouldn’t care!

So, the question is should you say something to him. I discussed your situation with our seminarian, Anthony, who has offered two main points to consider. ‘Will this be best for the person’s salvation’ and ‘will this be done in context of a real friendship’? Good points to consider. After that, we’d recommend that you have to think and pray if the person will react well to fraternal correction and if you are the right person to do this. Is there anyone else who can point out his errors? Does anyone else know that what he’s doing is wrong? Probably yes. But, please keep this mind: you may be able to inform his conscience in ways that no one else can. In other words, his conscience may be misinformed about what’s right and wrong, and your admonishment could set the person straight. I think one of our bloggers wrote about that experience where someone corrected them; it’s often a correction to the conscience. His conscience may not know! Your role would then primarily be as a teacher.

If you discern that you are one who is to say something, then please don’t let the fear of appearing judgmental stop you. (I thank God that the people who have corrected me in my life weren’t too worried about their images). If you are the right person to say something, then that means that God is calling you to talk to him about his sinful behavior. It won’t be easy, but God will be with you. And remember, it is an act of charity and mercy.

Please keep in mind that your kids – whether they say this or not – will judge your reaction to the situation of this person (or anyone like him or her), if they know about it. They will judge that you either have strong convictions or you don’t. If they know that you already have strong convictions, then they will judge that you either are not afraid to speak the truth or you are. It may seem like an unfair deal, but kids see and hear everything that we adults do and say. Even in a culture which religiously preaches “To each his own, it’s not our place to judge”, our youth internally judge us every day. Ultimately, it’s a judgment about whether or not we take seriously our Christian faith and live it out.

Finally, it’s a great teaching moment with your kids. You can teach them what God’s love is and that it involves speaking the truth to those we love, even if it’s tough to do so. If you discern that you are supposed to speak to this person, then you can teach your kids that it’s not an act of judgment, it’s an act of love.


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