In today’s Gospel, Christ reminds us of a very important obligation in charity that all of us have as Christians; namely, fraternal correction: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Go and tell him his fault? We certainly like to tell other people about our neighbor’s fault, but to tell him to his face? That is certainly uncomfortable. In a society that tells us judgment is the worst sin possible, it’s interesting that sometimes we seem to like nothing more than judgment: scandalous headlines, news stories, etc. – we all eat it up! Dirt on celebrities, athletes, politicians, religious people – that’s what sells!
So, the truth emerges: It’s not as if we’re opposed to judgment. What we’re really opposed to is appearing to be judgmental, since this means that we ourselves might lose the good opinion of others. So that’s why we rarely correct our brother or sister. It’s also a failure of charity – we don’t care enough about our neighbor’s soul to try and steer them from sin to virtue. Our Lord is telling us that loving our neighbor as ourselves means being watchful lest they fall into sin. Of course, this must be done with great humility and charity, conscious of the fact that we too fall into sin many times. We must not be harsh or strict with our neighbor, but neither must we lax and non-chalant about sin and scandal.
As part of the great gift of our freedom and the wonderful privilege of being members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we have the honor of being instrumental in the salvation of others. Likewise, we can also many times fail to be the instrument that links someone to God. As we hear in the first reading: “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.”
Everyone is free, and we can never force someone to turn from sin to sanctity, but we can be a necessary voice that helps them back to the Lord. When we shy away from correcting our brothers and sister (in humility and charity), we might be losing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be an instrument of salvation. And be creative! We do not take the same approach to every person in every situation. In some cases, perhaps we are called to discuss the teachings of the Church with someone; in other situations, perhaps that would not help, so we simply encourage others to seek the truth and we share our experience of the Lord with them; in still other cases, perhaps our best way to win a heart to the Lord is through our joyful and prayerful example. The Lord gave us our minds so that we can be clever and creative in winning souls for him!