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Fraternal Correction

8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. (Ezekiel 33:8-9)

Pope Benedict reflected on fraternal correction in yesterday's Angelus address:

The text of the Gospel “tells us that brotherly love also involves a sense of mutual responsibility,” said the Pope, “so if my brother sins against me, I must use love towards him and, first of all, speak to him personally, pointing out that what he has said or done is not good.”
The Pope quoted the 4-5th century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo, who said Christians cannot be indifferent to the “severe wound” a fellow believer may have inflicted upon themselves through sin.
However, St. Augustine also stressed that any subsequent fraternal correction has to be animated by love and not revenge insisting “you have to forget the hurt you have received, not the wound of your brother.”

Therein lies the challenge of fraternal correction. To admonish the sinner and to instruct the ignorant are spiritual works of mercy. In order to be merciful, they must be done with love. Fraternal correction is not a game of "gotcha" where we expose, judge, and condemn. Even Jesus promotes the leadership pearl of "praise in public, correct in private". We show our love by offering the sinner truth while never demeaning his dignity. We stand fast by our principles because to do otherwise would condone sin and lead others to sin. We offer correction with humility, fully aware that we ourselves are sinners and will need correction at times as well.

As Pope Benedict said:
All this indicates that there is a shared responsibility in the way of Christian life. Everyone, aware of their limitations and defects, is called to welcome fraternal correction and help others with this particular service.

If our fraternal correction is rejected, our response must still be one of love. We pray for the one who persists in sin. Once private correction fails, it may be necessary to publicly expose the sin to protect others from the same error. Church sanctions are not punishment. They are proclamations of the truth and a call to conversion. We cannot presume the authority to mete out God's justice. We can seek to imitate His mercy.


Robert Martin said…
Thank you, Dr. Hunnell, for this post. I needed to read it.

I have a tough time "correcting" anyone. Truth be told, I often keep my mouth shut rather than disabuse anyone, much less a fellow sinner. I fail to act for a number of reasons, mostly out of fear that someone that I might seek to lovingly "correct" might say the following to me: "Who the hell are you to judge me?"

Some background: I am a middle-aged man that was baptized a Catholic as a child. In my teens, I left the Church. Quite frankly, and up until I was about 40, I led a very sinful life. I am now a 46 year-old sinner that is also, thankfully, a once-again practicing Catholic.

I hope that in the future you will give examples of how Catholics should engage in "fraternal correction." To the extent that I do it all, I simply say things like, "I'm really glad that I returned to the Church and started trying to avoid sin. It's hard for me to do, but I try. I am weak." If I am feeling particularly ambitious, I then ask the person that I am trying to correct to "Please pray for me." I tell them that I need their prayers. (And I do need their prayers!)

I wish I could do more. I hope I am doing enough. Again, I am a weak sinner. Please pray for me.

Thanks again, Dr. Hunnell, for this post. Please keep writing. God bless.

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