In today’s gospel, it seems that Jesus has contradicted himself. At one time he said: ‘Judge not and you will not be judged.’ And today he urges us to correct another person who does wrong. It leaves us a question: ‘How can we correct without judgment?’ At a closer look however, Jesus is telling his disciples and us now, that though we are not to judge one’s conscience but we can actually judge one’s deeds. True, it is hard to know if a person realizes he/she is doing wrong, yet oftentimes we can see when he/she does wrong.
For many of us, giving correction is seemingly difficult if not impossible a task. But it is our duty to give as it is our duty to receive it. Undeniably it is a difficult task indeed, if we do it for our own sake, for our own glorification or for our own glory. But like the Prophet Ezekiel in our First Reading today, we are the ‘sentry’ of the house of Israel. It means that we are doing this for the sake of something else, more specifically for the sake of someone [of God] and for the sake of another person. As a ‘sentry’, Ezekiel stood on the Palestinian hills and blew his trumpet to warn of invaders. He therefore served as a watchman over the spiritual dangers that threatened God’s people.
And so are we now. We are to serve as ‘our brother’s/sister’s keeper.
We are called to be ‘lookouts’ but not to gossip over the limitations and weaknesses of others but to correct them from continuing the wrong thing they’re doing. It is hard indeed because we’re afraid of rejection or vengeance from the wrongdoer. So how can we overcome this difficulty of fraternal correction?
I would recommend KFC (Keeping Friendship with Christ).
Jesus Christ is one who is really an expert of fraternal correction. He wasn’t afraid of vengeance or anything, rather he stood by his ground which is the truth that God loves us all and wants all of us to live in love of him and in one another. Thus, he gave correction to Peter. The Sunday before last he called Peter ‘the rock,’ but last Sunday he called him ‘the stumbling block.’ He corrected St Paul on the way to Damascus for persecuting his Church. He not only preached correction, he really practiced it. As followers of him, we are sort of ‘watchdogs’ who are to really bark if we feel or hear something fishy, but definitely not to act as ‘temple police’. We can only do this if we keep close and intimate friendship with Christ.
Keeping friendship with Christ also empowers and strengthens us in carrying out our duties of correcting the wrongdoing we see of other people. In Jesus we see how lovingly he gave corrections. Hence, we are also called to correct another in and with love. St Paul in his letter to the Romans today speaks of this love as ‘the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour’ and ‘the answer to every one of the commandments.’
So how can we correct another person lovingly? Jesus in the gospel explains it. We take the person alone, private and point out his/her fault. But this is not to be done if we are angry, or in public, or out of hatred. If he/she refuses to be corrected, let’s get another one or two (our friends, his/her friends/ confidante) to help us. If even this does not work, let’s go to the bigger community. In other words, let’s do every possible way we can to correct this person. With love we can do this. As we read further in the gospel, there is however another aspect that seems to be added on by Jesus as another way to fraternal correction: Prayer, especially praying together, maybe with friends or maybe even praying with the one who does wrong for light, for humility and for openness of heart.
Herbert Smith SJ has outlined A Dozen Guidelines for Brotherly Correction and I would like to include it here.
Unless you are a model correction taker, be slow to give it.
Correct like a friend and fellow sinner, not like an enemy.
Knowing how you resent unjust correction, never inflict it.
Harping on past faults is not correction but condemnation.
Know that love wins over better than an army of accusations.
Get help to correct when it is needed.
Frame the correction so it will heal and not wound further.
Decide first whether the person needs correction or help.
Correct infrequently, and not only the greater failings.
Correction hurts, so don’t correct with a sledgehammer.
Think how prayerfully Mary would correct, and imitate her.
Put yourself in the culprit’s shoes and think about it. You may end up congratulating him for not being worse!
(My addition) KFC (Keep Friendship with Christ). He is a great paradigm of fraternal correction, not only by preaching about it but also by giving up his very life to show it.