Homily — 23rd Sunday OT A 9-7-8

Homily — 23rd Sunday OT A 9-7-8

In all of today’s Mass Readings, we are given a little lesson in what is commonly called Fraternal Correction.

“Fraternal Correction” is when one Christian admonishes a brother Christian who is sinning, in the hope that his brother may see his sin and repent of it.

In the first reading from Ezekiel, we learn how giving fraternal correction can at times be a moral obligation on our part. God says to us through the prophet If. . . .you do not speak out and dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.

So, at times our silence in the face of our brother’s sin is a serious sin in itself, a sin of omission on our part.

However, the great moral theologian St. Thomas Aquinas states that there are times when it would be better not to fraternally correct an erring brother. Just as one of the conditions for a Just War is that there needs to be reasonable hope for success, so in fraternal correction, one also must have a reasonable hope for success that the correction is going to lead to the person’s repentance.

So, if after prudent consideration and prayer for the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Counsel, we judge that any attempt at correcting our brother would only make that him even more hardened in his sin, charity would have us refrain from doing so, at least at the present time.

And in the Second Reading, St. Paul tells us that the fraternal correction Ezekiel and Jesus speak about in the other readings is rooted in this virtue of charity. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another St. Paul says. It is love, and not justice or hatred, that should motivate us to correct an erring brother.

Going back to St. Thomas Aquinas, he teaches that the goal of fraternal correction is to get the sinner to see how harmful his sin is to himself. It is not to tell him “Hey, can’t you see how miserable you are making me and others by that sin of yours?” Charity actually demands that we not say that to the brother who sins against us; Charity demands that on the contrary we bear the wrongs of others with patience and forgiveness. But when we show a brother that we care not for ourselves but his own well being, our fraternal correction will be all the more effective.

Finally, in the Gospel, Our Lord Jesus shows us the proper way we should go about giving fraternal correction: if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

Too often, instead of having the charity and courage to speak face to face with the erring brother, we are tempted to commit the sin of detraction by mentioning a our brother’s faults to other’s behind his back, as a means of “venting”.

Jesus teaches us that we should either discuss problems we’re having first with our brother, or else keep the matter between ourselves and God.

But, if after speaking with the person who has sinned against us, the person does not listen, Jesus says to then tell one or two others only of the matter, maybe a priest, or a close friend who you know will not spread gossip. Again, this is out of love for our sinful brother, to preserve as much as possible his good reputation, and to give him a chance to repent.

Jesus finally goes on to say that in those rare circumstances when, after private admonition, and after repeated warnings from the Church, an erring brother still obstinately persists in public grave sin, He says we are then to treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. In other words, consider him no longer a brother Christian. This is commonly called the penalty of excommunication.

But even in those rare cases when the Church, as a last resort, imposes excommunication of one of her members, she only does so with the hope that the person will then see the seriousness of his sins, come to his senses, and finally ask forgiveness and return to full union with the Church community.

As we reflect this weekend about our duty to at times charitably give and receive fraternal correction, let us conclude by remembering the last lines of the Letter of St. James, which shows us how important this act of charity is to the Christian Life.

St. James says: My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his (own) soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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