Unity in Christ and the Fraternal Correction That Seeks to Restore It, 19th Wednesday (I), August 12, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 19th Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Jane de Chantal
August 12, 2015
Dt 34:1-12, Ps 66, Mt 18:15-20


To listen to an audio of today’s homily, please click here: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Jesus had come to found a family, to bring us through the communion of saints somehow, mysteriously, according to our condition as creatures, into the communion of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. During the Last Supper he prayed repeatedly that we might be one as the Father and He are one, so that the world might believe that the Father sent the Son and loves us like he loves the Son (Jn 17). Jesus’ plan is always for unity, for communion, for a love that binds. At the end of today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about the power of that unity with Him and with others. He tells us whenever just two or three gather in his name, he’ll be present in the midst. When we pray in his name to the Father, the Father is guaranteed to hear it. When we in his name bind something on earth it will be bound in heaven, and when we loose something on earth in his name, it will be loosed in heaven. In order for this to occur, we need to do so, he tells us, “in his name,” which in the Biblical understanding of name means in his person, together with him, asking for what he himself could and would ask for. We can specify it a little by remembering his names, “Emmanuel,” “Jesus” and “Christ.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray conscious of the fact that God is with us, that he is with us precisely to save us, and through that salvation he seeks to make us “little Christs,” anointed by the same Spirit who anointed him. God is with us to unite us, to save us from rupture and division, to help us to follow him and to become his icon in the middle of the world carrying out God’s plan to restore and unite all things in Christ.
  • The devil’s plan, on the other hand, is always to divide. The word diabolos in Greek signifies one who attempts to throw off course. The consequences of sin are always a triple division, a division with God, a division with others, and a division within ourselves. The devil’s work is to get us to try to make a name for ourselves, rather than hallow and pray in God’s name. He wants to frustrate God’s plan of salvation and to get his to live according to the flesh rather than according to the Holy Spirit.
  • What happens when we’ve succumbed to the temptations of the great Divider and experienced this division he seeks to provoke? Jesus describes that for us in today’s Gospel in his very important teaching on what Christian tradition has called Fraternal Correction. It’s key for us to grasp Jesus isn’t giving this as “good advice” but as a series of imperatives. He commands us to do fraternal correction, so important is it within his saving plans. Today we can ponder the steps he gives us and why each is important.
  • The first step involves a one on one encounter. Jesus says, “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.” Notice that Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you.” He’s telling us if we’ve been hurt by a brother, he wants us not to sit in the corner stewing and sulking as the aggrieved party, but to take the initiative to let the other know the way he has sinned and provide an occasion for reconciliation and restoration of unity. Jesus doesn’t command us, “Wait until your brother comes to his senses, repents and crawls back humiliated to implore your mercy.” He wants us to make the move. This is, of course, what God has done for us in Christ. Even though we sinned against him, he took the initiative in coming to bring about a reconciliation. Do we love our wayward brother or sister enough to make such an intervention? We’re presently living in an age in which some people think that the greatest commandment is to be “nice,” to “live and let live,” to be “tolerant” of others’ sins, and never to confront someone or risk making them feel unhappy. We live in an age in which cowardice to try to help someone correct a bad habit is considered “not disturbing the peace,” forgetting that we’ll never have peace as long as someone is dividing himself from God, us, and within himself. We’ve got to overcome our aversion to conflict and take the risk.
  • We can say two other things here. First, if we are the party who has wronged the other, then Jesus presumes that we would go to our brother one-on-one and confess our fault and beg for forgiveness and reconciliation. We shouldn’t always wait for the aggrieved to make the move. Part of repentance is saying sorry. Second, Jesus presumes that if we’re going to our brother, we have already followed the advice he gave us earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” Jesus wants us going to correct our brother out of charity not in order to make ourselves feel better by lifting ourselves up by stepping on them. He wants us not to criticize them for a fault we see in ourselves, but, first to work on our own conversion before we go and call others to conversion. Sometimes removing the plank doesn’t mean totally overcoming the bad habit, but minimally recognizing we have it. If we’re in that circumstance, we can say to our brother that we’re guilty of the same fault, which has made us even more sensitive as to how it can harm both the doer and others. What we can’t do is to deflect the attention for correcting ourselves by correcting others, for that never really works on either end.
  • Jesus tells us clearly that such a one-on-one intervention may not always work. We may not “win over our brother” to unity. He may remain divided. Jesus doesn’t tell us that we can then wipe our hands of the situation and say, “Well, I tried…” No, winning our brother back to communion is so important that Jesus then turns to a second step: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you” to make the same correction. Jesus doesn’t want us spreading it to everyone, ruining our brother’s reputation, but he recognizes that sometimes the person won’t change at just one person’s word, but may change if two or three people he or she respects comes, because then it might seem so personal. At the same time, what may happen when we go to a couple of other respected people is that they may think we’re making too much out of it and help us from making little things an obsession if that’s what’s been occurring.
  • But Jesus prepares us not to quit even if the second step fails. Love for bringing our erring sister back to communion leads us to the third step: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.” We bring it to the leaders of the community to ask for their assistance, hoping that our brother will recognize it’s serious if representatives of the whole community come to them. It’s also a direct request for the prayers of the whole community.
  • If the person refuses to correct even at the assistance of the leaders and members of the Church, if the person thinks he knows even better than the Church and the Holy Spirit working through the clergy and all the faith, Jesus gives us a fourth step: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” If all the steps fail, Jesus tells us to recognize that they’re not in communion, just as the Gentiles and tax-collectors were not in communion with the Jews. But treating them like a Gentile and tax-collector doesn’t mean writing them off. Jesus, after all, was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” and sought to bring the light to all the Gentiles. To treat them in such a way means acknowledging clearly they’re not living as a member of the community, but at the same time insistently praying for their conversion, acknowledging that they’re obstinately refusing to convert.
  • We know that this procedure of a fraternal correction happens often with those who are addicted to drugs or booze. At first one of us individually tries to help our brother admit that he has a problem. If that fails, we try to talk to him with a couple of others. If that fails, normally we do an intervention, when ten or twelve people the person respects all convene to convince the person that we’re not all deceived and that we all recognize he has a problem and out of love want to help him get help. This is a real act of love for the person who is addicted and many of us have been involved in those types of interventions. The person often doesn’t like to hear it, but he recognizes that the people in the room love him and he grasps that he can’t remain in denial about his illness. We need to be willing to do this when we’re addicted to serious sins just like family members and friends do it for loved ones who are addicted to alcohol or narcotics.
  • We can finish by pondering three other related points:
    • Just as Jesus calls us to give fraternal correction, we should receive fraternal correction well. People may be slightly off when they come to us to call us to conversion on a particular action or habit, but these are the people who really love us and we should receive it with gratitude and humility. I am so grateful for those who over time have given me the corrections I needed. Sometimes I was simply unaware of the way that I was dividing others and myself from them and I needed to be told. We are all in need of such correction on the road to holiness.
    • If we don’t make fraternal correction, it’s not as if the problem will just disappear. It will often get worse and we may end up seeing the brother and sister grow increasingly apart and maybe given get separated forever in the place the Church calls the place of “definitive self-exclusion from God” and others called hell. This is what happened when the Jews crossed into the Holy Land after the scene in today’s first reading. Moses had instructed them for God to pass on the faith, to drill the love of God into their children, to think about it at home or abroad, to wear it on the sleeves and on their faces, in short to be holy as God is holy. But in the first generation they forgot all of this. They tolerated, rather than gave fraternal corrections, to the Canaanites and began to assimilate and adopt the pagan practices of idolatry and sin that divided them from God and each other. Rather than drill the faith into their children, they failed to train them, and their kids became lawless. And no correction was given. So they passed in silence to a state of sin. The same thing can happen to us when we fail to pass on the faith and when we cease to correct others who are dividing themselves from God and us and wounding themselves on the inside.
    • The third thing is the tone with which we ought to make fraternal corrections. There’s a totally ineffective way to do it, coming in high and critical and leaving the person somewhat feeling humiliated. This is the way a bad boss, for example, would berate a new employee who still hasn’t received adequate training. A much better way would be the way a loving mother corrects her children, with tenderness, without embarrassment, with a clear sense of loving help. This is what St. Jane Frances de Chantal excelled in, both as a mom of six children and then the spiritual mother of countless more as the foundress of the Visitation Nuns with St. Francis de Sales. St. Francis was the one who made famous the saying that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Our fraternal corrections should be fully of honey as we make them if we hope to do more than just correct a bad habit but to be brought into a deeper loving communion.
  • Wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he promises to be among us. Today we’ve gathered in his name and he comes in the continuation of the Last Supper to try to fulfill his prayer to the Father than we might all be one. By entering into a Holy Communion with Him, he seeks to make us one Body, one Spirit with each other. Let us ask him to fill us with so great a desire for this unity that we may seek to do all things in his name with others and go out to bring others into this same life-saving, holy communion, so as that as we look toward the eternal promised land as Moses looked at the earthly holy land, we may in fact cross over to it with St. Jane, St. Francis, and all the brothers and sisters whom the devil is divide now and forever from God and us.


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
DT 34:1-12

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,
the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho,
and the LORD showed him all the land—
Gilead, and as far as Dan, all Naphtali,
the land of Ephraim and Manasseh,
all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea,
the Negeb, the circuit of the Jordan
with the lowlands at Jericho, city of palms,
and as far as Zoar.
The LORD then said to him,
“This is the land
which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
that I would give to their descendants.
I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”
So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the LORD,
died as the LORD had said; and he was buried in the ravine
opposite Beth-peor in the land of Moab,
but to this day no one knows the place of his burial.
Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died,
yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.
For thirty days the children of Israel wept for Moses
in the plains of Moab, till they had completed
the period of grief and mourning for Moses.
Now Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the spirit of wisdom,
since Moses had laid his hands upon him;
and so the children of Israel gave him their obedience,
thus carrying out the LORD’s command to Moses.Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses,
whom the LORD knew face to face.
He had no equal in all the signs and wonders
the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt
against Pharaoh and all his servants and against all his land,
and for the might and the terrifying power
that Moses exhibited in the sight of all Israel.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 66:1-3A, 5 AND 8, 16-17

R. (see 20a and 10b) Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth;
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God: “How tremendous are your deeds!”
R. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
Bless our God, you peoples;
loudly sound his praise.
R. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
When I appealed to him in words,
praise was on the tip of my tongue.
R. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!

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.”