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.


At 6:38 PM, Blogger fran said...

After reading today's post earlier this afternoon, I went about my day. A little while ago, while leafing through a magazine, I was about to recycle, I read this:

"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke 1729-1797

Coincidence? Maybe....then again, maybe not.

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Welcome to our parish family. I suspect we have much to learn from each other, and in that process, I hope we make you feel loved and appreciated.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of months ago, I was talking to this woman about problems I was having. I didn’t give her the details of what was going on; rather I shared my experiences of them. I explained how I was feeling and my perceptions about myself in the midst of it all. She was so kind, and she basically said that she would “love me until I learned to love myself.” Initially, I was weirded-out, likely b/c I didn’t think I was deserving of that, and I was uncomfortable with another speaking to me in such an intimate and personal way. Furthermore, I had proved to myself over and over again that I wasn’t worthy of love, as I had continuous problems w/others who offered love and acceptance. I didn’t know what to say other than, “Thank you,” and I thought that was that- she would love me but (hopefully) from afar! However, over the past few months, we’ve continued to talk a couple of times a week, and it’s been a good thing. She’s straight forward, and last week she said something to me I didn’t like hearing. I heard it as criticism and stewed over it for a bit, but then I remembered her original offer – love. Okay, I’m not going to say that I agree with what she said, but I’m okay that she said it, b/c I understood her come from. We’ve all likely experienced admonition that comes from a place of love as well as admonition that is based in judgment. I think it’s important to define where we are coming from, for ourselves and others, before we speak.

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the gospel passage that says he who is without sin, cast the first stone? None of us are without sin, so how can we admonish another whether in love or not.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

The fact that one is flawed (or even a hypocrite) doesn't mean that what he has to say is invalid.

Should a parent who had something of a wild youth talk with his children about the dangers of drug use and unprotected sex? Of course. Should a motorist pulled over for speeding be able to escape his fine by claiming the the cop flies down the highway whenever he wants? No way.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 1:40 -

I think some of the answer to your question lies in other gospel passages:

"Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?"

If we approach another in admonishment, while at the same time acknowledging our own sin, and if it is done without ego or pride, if it done selflessly, then it is an act of love and an act done with love.

"Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye."

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I correct my children, I'm not casting stones. I correct because I love them and want what is best for them. I do so because I want them to be healthy and safe, and it is my responsibility to correct them in anything that would otherwise interfere with that. Obviously, dealing with people who aren't our children is different, but not too much. What I mean is that, if we are truly interested in each others' well being (and we should be), then isn't it our responsibility to do what we can to help each other? Admonishment isn't scolding or, as the original anon said, judging; it's bringing something to light for the betterment of another.

At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree.

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the 9:06 anon-

With what do you disagree?

I thought Cynthiabc made a great point about teaching from experience. I also thought that Fran was right on about reconciling our own sin. I notice that the sins I most clearly recognize of another are the ones I'm most often commit.

My eldest son jokingly complains that he never got away with anything when he was younger. There wasn't too much I didn't try in my youth, and I knew where certain choices would take him. Reprocussions were harsh for the very offenses I had too committed. I didn't feel hypocritical then, nor do I now. If I put my hand in the fire and got burned, isn't it cruel to sit back and just watch another do the same?

At 10:09 AM, Blogger fran said...

I don't mean to over-analyze this, and I have a great deal of respect for all opinions and views here, but the "casting of stones" gospel passage was about condemnation THEN admonishment.

The intent behind the people involved was to kill the woman for her sin of adultery. Then, Jesus intervenes with words of admonishment:
"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." John 8:7

It is with these words of admonishment that the crowd is called to probe their "misinformed conscience,"
"And in response, they went away one by one, begining with the elders." John 8:9

Jesus continues with words of admonishment for the woman.
"Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, neither do I condemn you. Go [and] from now on do not sin anymore." John 8:10-11

It is important to recognize the use and meaning of the word condemn vs. admonish.
Condemn - to pronounce adverse judgment on (what the crowd did)
Admonish - to caution, advise or encourage (what Jesus did)
There is a vast difference between the two. Condemning another is never an act of love. Admonishing another, if done with love, genuine concern for another and without a sense of self, is always an act of love. Otherwise it ceases to be an act of love and can no longer be called admonishment.

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m the original anon that posted the thoughts on admonishing sinful behavior. Thank you all, Fr. Greg, and our new summer seminarian, Anthony,for taking the time to discuss and respond to my concerns. The first thing I realized after reading FG's response was my need to change - “To each his own, it’s not our place to judge” to - “Love the sinner, not the sin.” Your choice of words more accurately describes my thought; I care for the sinner, not the sin. Yet, I think I care more for the number of teens exposed to the sinful behavior. Our teens have enough to deal with. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for teenagers to be told one thing, and watch another, within their own home.

I suspect my reason for dragging my heels and doing nothing about my acquaintance’s behavior is that in my gut, I know that I am probably not the right person to deal with this issue. If I’ve sat and done nothing for this long, as is the case, it’s probably because I’m not the one to deal with it. I simply need to trust my “gut” and pray. I do believe my thoughts and words would be genuine and from my heart, but I’m not so sure they would be received that way. I have no desire to cause harm. A quick, bitter tongue, as a response, could do more damage than good. There are kids involved here and kids are giant sieves; they see, hear and feel everything, more than we realize. Then they have to make sense of it all, a task I often still find difficult. I can only imagine how they would feel.

So, I feel comfortable in letting go of the whole issue. That is not to say that I have closed my eyes and pretend not to see or hear. It simply means I’ll use patience and prayer as a teacher, another difficult concept to embrace in today’s world. If the appropriate moment occurs, I’ll grab it. What I’ll do then is not worth worrying about now – what if may never happen. I’ll listen to my heart at that moment. If, while I have to interact with this person, an appropriate moment does not occur, I’ll continue to be patient and pray for this person and for the hope that someone else hears the call to talk with him/her. There is always the possibility that some positive result(s) will come out of the whole situation without any intervention. Adversity has been known to build character.


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