Saturday, April 29, 2006

Charity demands fraternal correction

"Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth,
let me not forget the truth about love"
St. Thomas Aquinas

It is often difficult to share the truth when you believe it will be met with sorrow, anger, resentment, or argument. We are called to 1) be nice to others, and 2) uphold the truth. Sometimes telling the truth isn't seen as "being nice," and so I think some folks just stay quiet so as not to offend.

For example, I have heard many people who believe deliberately killing an unborn child is evil, however many of these same people also want to allow the "right to choose." Geeeez! They think establishing laws against the evil of abortion is incongruent with "being nice." Well, the most frequent surgical procedure in America is abortion. They're choosing, alright. But they're choosing evil. :( Perhaps it's because we've forgotten that "admonishing the sinner" is among the spiritual works of mercy.

Is "be nice to others" congruent with "uphold the truth?" In other words, does real love of neighbor include telling the truth or admonishing the sinner, even if you know that by doing so, you will anger or offend them?

St. Paul taught, "Them that sin reprove before all that the rest also may have fear." (1 Tim 5:20). I'm a sinner who deserves and desires admonishment. I wish I could remember the name of that priest at Gonzaga University who gently admonished me with a look and a few words when I told him I was attending worship services with the Universalist Unitarians. He said, "you may find that believing in everything is the same as believing in nothing." He was right. May God bless that holy priest.

Admonishing the sinner, as taught by St. Paul to St. Timothy is certainly compatible with "love of neighbor." The Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise teaches, "Charity demands...fraternal correction." (CCC 1829).

Moreover, from the Rule of St. Augustine,
"...admonish him that the evil thus begun may not grow worse but may be corrected by your charity.... Nor are you to consider that you are acting in an uncharitable manner when you thus point out your neighbors' faults. Or the contrary, you cannot be free from blame if by your silence you allow your brethren to perish, when by pointing out their faults you might have corrected them. For if your brother had some bodily wound which he wished to hide through fear of the surgeon s knife, would it not be cruel to keep silence and merciful to reveal the wound? How more, then, are we bound to reveal that which will cause a worse corruption in the heart! ... Nor is such treatment cruel, but merciful, for many must not be suffered to perish by the pestilent example of one. ...Yet remember to let love of the sinner be ever united to hatred of his sin." (The rule of St. Augustine)
Pope Benedict XVI likewise asserted,
Fraternal correction is a work of mercy. None of us sees himself or his shortcomings clearly. It is therefore an act of love to complement one another, to help one another see each other better, and correct each other.

I think that one of the very functions of collegiality is to help one another, also in the sense of the previous imperative, to know the shortcomings that we ourselves do not want to see - "ab occultis meis munda me" [from my secret ones cleanse me - Psalm 18:13 Douay-Rheims] , the Psalm says - to help one another to open ourselves and to see these things.

Of course, this great work of mercy, helping one another so that each of us can truly rediscover his own integrity and functionality as an instrument of God, demands great humility and love.

Only if it comes from a humble heart that does not rank itself above others, that does not consider itself better than others but only a humble instrument to offer reciprocal help; only if we feel this true and deep humility, if we feel that these words come from common love, from the collegial affection in which we want to serve God together, can we help one another in this regard with a great act of love.

Here too the Greek text adds some nuances. The Greek word is "paracaleisthe"; it is the same root as the word "Paracletos, paraclesis", to comfort. It does not only mean to correct but also to comfort, to share the other's sufferings, to help him in his difficulties. And this also seems to me a great act of true collegial affection. (Pope Benedict XVI, Opening of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 3 October 2005)

God bless,