Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)
Central idea: Admonishing the sinner. Doctrine: Fraternal correction. Practical application: How to give fraternal correction.
To view Lectionary 127, click here.
Central Idea: Admonishing the sinner
Reading 1 Ez 33:7-9
Thus says the LORD:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;
when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ”
and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
But if you warn the wicked,
trying to turn him from his way,
and he refuses to turn from his way,
he shall die for his guilt,
but you shall save yourself.
- Moses and the prophets were the moral teachers of the Chosen People. The legitimate pastors of the Church are our moral teachers. These “watchmen” today are the Pope and the bishops united to him and those pastors under their authority. The Church’s moral teachings are found in a handy form in part three of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
- The Church has been ever faithful in teaching the moral law. But at times some of the Church’s watchmen have failed to “warn the wicked.” Lamentably, many have failed in the past fifty years in the West.
- God also appoints each of us “watchmen” over some, to teach and correct them. If we fail to do so, we commit a sin of omission.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
- Neither the human race nor the Church is just a collection of individuals, like beans in a bag. We are a flock, a people. Besides the fact that we are social beings, we should be united in loving God who has created us and made us neighbors and even brothers of each other, especially among the household of the Church.
- Out of destructive pride, we can also harden our hearts against instruction or correction. Sometimes the instruction is the correction, because the instruction “accuses” us of doing wrong when we compare the teaching to our own behavior.
Reading 2 Rom 13:8-10
Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, ”
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
- The entire moral law—“whatever other commandment there may be”—is contained in the Ten Commandments. And the Ten Commandments are contained in the Two Commandments to love God and neighbor. So to fulfill the God’s moral law, do not do evil to your neighbor, but love him.
Gospel Mt 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, 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.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
- Those in authority in the Church—the hierarchy—have the right and the duty to correct members of the faithful who stray. They can even excommunicate members who seriously deny Catholic faith or morals.
- Procedures for this are spelled out in the Code of Canon Law for the Church and in the various constitutions of religious orders for their members.
- We ordinary lay members of the faithful also can prudently correct others. This is called fraternal correction. It is the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner. It is basically that first step to “tell him his fault between you and him alone.” To avoid being a busybody, the person should be someone we have some business talking to, for example, a member of the family, a person we work with, a friend.
- One of the things we constantly get wrong when it comes to another’s fault is to gossip about this person’s fault to a third party rather than talk to that person directly.
Doctrine: Fraternal correction
- Fraternal correction is a loving “heads up” given by one Christian to his neighbor to help him become holy. The matter of correction could be a sin (mortal or venial) or even a fault that is harming that neighbor or those he comes in contact with.
- This correction might deepen the relationship if the correction is called for, made charitably, and the other accepts it humbly, or it might spell the end of the relationship if it is made badly or the person rejects what you have to say. God foresees that.
- The Catechism points out that “charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction” (CCC 1829). Few of us would doubt that love without beneficence—doing good for others—could not possibly be love. We might not be so clear about the need to correct others. But when someone is doing something wrong we love that person by attempting to correct him.
- Fraternal correction is also an act of justice toward others who are harmed or could be harmed by the sin or fault of the person being corrected (ST II-II, Q33, A1). For example, a father who is unreasonably harsh toward his wife and children is not only harming himself but also unjustly harming his family.
- In addition, the Catechism points out, fraternal correction is good for the person who does the correcting. Fraternal correction is one of the ways that we ourselves are converted to Christ. It is a way of taking up our own daily cross (CCC 1435). The reason is that it is a difficult good because of the rejection we are liable to face.
- Some obstacles to fraternal correction are:
- We don’t bother thinking and praying about others.
- We don’t take into account the need and value of admonishing the sinner.
- We are afraid of upsetting the other.
- We feel we are unworthy to correct the other either because of the other person’s good qualities or because we may have the same fault ourselves.
- We tell ourselves it won’t do any good.
Practical Application: How to give fraternal correction
- Four things that can make the spiritual work of mercy of “admonishing the sinner” or fraternal correction effective rather than destructive are supernatural outlook, humility, consideration, and affection.
- Fraternal correction is only to be given because we are convinced God wants it for the sake of the person we are correcting and those affected by him. We pray about him and for him, asking the Holy Spirit if he wants this correction made and how it should be made. That is what supernatural outlook means.
- Humility is necessary because we are sinners ourselves and fail in many ways. We could just as easily have the same fault and we certainly have other imperfections. Nevertheless, God wants us to help each other.
- It is also necessary to be considerate, that is, to say what we have to say in the least hurtful way possible without beating around the bush. It is so easy to humiliate another and no one likes being corrected.
- Finally, the correction should be given out of love and concern. The motive for the correction is the true good of the others, not your own benefit. That is true affection.