THE DUTY OF FRATERNAL CORRECTION
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, SEPT. 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).- In the Gospel this Sunday we read: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother sins, go and admonish him privately; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.’”
Jesus speaks of all sins; he does not restrict the field to sins committed against us. In this latter sort of case, it is hard to know whether what moves us is zeal for truth or our own wounded pride. In any case, it would be more of a self-defense than a fraternal correction. When the sin is against us, the first duty is not correction but forgiveness.
Why does Jesus say to admonish your brother privately? Above all, this injunction has respect for your brother’s good name, his dignity in view.
The worst thing would be to want to correct a husband in the presence of his wife or a wife in the presence of her husband, a father in front of his children, a teacher in front of pupils, or a superior in the presence of inferiors; in other words, in the presence of those whose esteem is important for the person in question? The situation will soon become a public trial. It would be very difficult for the person to accept the correction well. His dignity would be compromised.
Jesus says that the admonishment should take place privately to give the person the chance to defend himself and explain his actions in complete freedom. Many times what appears to an outside observer to be a sin is not in the intention of the person who committed it. A frank explanation clears up many misunderstandings. But this is no longer possible when the person is publicly redressed and the incident brought to the awareness of others.
When, for whatever reason, fraternal correction is not possible in private, there is something that must never be done in its place, and that is to divulge, without good reason, one’s brother’s fault, to speak ill of him or, indeed, to calumniate him, proposing as fact something that is not, or exaggerating the fault. “Do not speak ill of one another,” Scripture says (James 4:11). Gossip is not something innocent; it is ugly and reprehensible. another occasion: “Why do you regard the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the bean in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ when you do not see the beam that is in yours” (Luke 6:41)?
What Jesus has taught us about correction can be very useful in raising children too. Correction is one of the parent’s fundamental duties. “What son is not disciplined by his father?” Scripture says (Hebrews 12:7); and again: “Straighten the little plant while it is still young if you do not want it to be permanently crooked.” Completely renouncing every form of correction is one of the worst things that you can do to your children and unfortunately it very common today.
You must simply take care that the correction itself does not become an accusation or a criticism. In correcting you should just stick to reproving the error that was committed; don’t generalize it and reproach everything about the child and his conduct. Instead, use the correction to point out all the good things that you see in the child and how you expect much better from him, in such away that the correction becomes encouragement rather than disqualification. This was the method that St. John Bosco used with children.
It is not easy in individual cases to know whether it is better to correct something or let it go, speak or be silent. This is why it is important to remember the Golden Rule, valid in all cases, that St. Paul offers in the second letter: “Owe each other nothing but the debt of mutual love. […] Love does evil to no one.” Augustine synthesized everything in the maxim, “Love and do what you will.”
You must make sure above all that in your heart there is a fundamental disposition of welcome toward other persons. If you have this, then whatever you do, whether you correct or remain silent, you will be doing the right thing, because love “does evil to no one.”
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-2