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Pastor's Letter 20200906 - 06 September 2020 - Fraternal Correction

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September 6th,  2020

23rd Sunday, Ordinary Time

Today’s Theme: “Fraternal Correction”


A Message from Father Michael

 Scripture Note

 Today’s Bible readings share ancient, God-inspired, Hebrew wisdom concerning offering “correction” when dealing with believers of all ages.  Our First Reading talks about the grave responsibility of community leaders in correcting those who err (Ezekiel 33:7-9.)  Appointed leaders bear the responsibility to get them to reform.   We must remember too, that Jesus’ message was one of love. 

Psalm 95 speaks of a time in the history of the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert.  There, they became discouraged at the harsh lot they had and they blamed God for their troubles.  So, the psalmist cries, “Harden not your heart.”

Then the Second Reading (Romans 13:8-10) reinforces the position that each member of the community holds in relation to all others.  When we truly love our neighbors, we will not harm them in any way.

The question in today’s Gospel reading is not forgiveness (dealt with later,) but the sin committed by one member of the community.  Every effort must be made to bring the erring person to repentance: first, privately, then, before a few, and finally, before the whole community (Matthew 18: 15-20.) If the offender is found still unrepentant, they must be excommunicated.  The decision of the Church is upheld as being honored by God.  The harsh statement, “Treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector,” speaks to the strict Jewish Christianity of Matthew’s church, which still held those groups of people apart, at that time. 

Harden Not Your Hearts

Someone who visits the Middle East, Africa, or some arid, desert region of the earth, readily understands the meaning of drought.  Without moisture, even the most fertile ground will turn into a “desert.” (See: “eutrophication.”)  Sometimes, even when the rain comes, eventually, the ground may have become so desiccated that it can’t absorb the rain, which then runs away, causing  flash-flooding (a common occurrence in desert regions.)

 So it is when the human heart metaphorically becomes “hardened.”  Hardheartedness may well give a person a measure of invulnerability in so far as one can’t feel, and therefore, can’t be hurt; but it’s a sad and pitiable state.  A person who adopts such an attitude maims themselves, psychologically.

A hard heart can’t feel; can’t respond; can’t love.  Nor can it experience sorrow or revel in joy.  Such an individual is said to have a closed or barren heart—often viewed as the most serious handicap of all.  From a spiritual perspective, it is one of the worst conditions in which a person can find themselves.  A persistent feeling such as this, held even against a single person, can do serious emotional damage—no matter that it may spring from what appear to be very good reasons. 

 A soft heart, on the other hand, is a blessing.  It may portend becoming easily hurt, and saddened, but it can also experience exquisite happiness.  It can respond.  It can burst into life like a garden in springtime!   Jesus came not just to purify our hearts, but to soften them; to sow the seeds of God’s Word in them; to turn them from wastelands into fertile ground.  He enabled many to experience what Russians have called “the melting of the heart.” 

The celebrated 19th century Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, was sent to prison for suspected homosexuality by a jealous patron.  (Although a married father of two children, he was a renowned spokesman for the aesthetic literary movement, espousing “Art for Art’s Sake.”   Although brilliantly defending himself against the libelous charge in a French court suit, resulting in no verdict, he was later was found guilty and imprisoned for two years.)   For someone as well-known as he was, it was a terrible humiliation.  There is an apropos analogy that states, “the bigger the boulder, the higher up the mountain it has stood, the more damage it does to itself and other stones when it falls.”  So, it was with Wilde.  Nonetheless, he produced many significant works of celebrated artistic import thereafter, (indeed, the bulk of his important work.)  Nonetheless, imprisonment was a social and economic calamity for him, which caused great sadness to his family and friends.   (He died from meningitis In November, 1900, bought on by an ear infection.  An interesting side note: In his semiconscious final moments, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, which he had long admired.) (www.britannica.com/biography/Oscal-Wilde.)

 The aspect of prison most feared is not that it may “break a person’s heart,”—hearts are made to be broken—but that it might turn one’s heart to stone. (Although it may have affected Wilde otherwise, his creative bent was not extinguished by the experience.)

 Today’s Liturgy calls us from the error of our ways into a closer relationship with God and with one another, by providing us with an opportunity to heed the words of warning in Scripture.  If we harden our hearts against God, we will face the ultimate calamity:  meaning that not even God, Himself would be able to “get through” to us.  But when we heed God’s voice, everything changes.  Then, our hearts can be softened by the “rain” of God’s grace; warmed by the “sun” of His love; turning our metaphorically hardened hearts from deserts to gardens of beauty.      

Seeking to be Reconciled

The practical aspects of dealing with problems within a community, however, many times are more tangible than philosophical.  We are charged with “dealing” with controversy when someone with whom we may have previously had a productive relationship has “wronged” us, or someone else, in some way.  When this occurs, we may “bottle up” our disappointment, and keep the anger that the incident caused inside ourselves.  Eventually, unable to contain it, we may “vent” our problem to others…disinterested friends, neighbors, relatives…even total strangers, not as advisers, per se, but as people who might “corroborate” our interpretation of the situation, and “take our side.”  The last person to hear about the “hurt,” unfortunately, may well be the person who is causing it, or even worse, they may hear about it from someone who is totally uninvolved.

That is when the guidance offered by today’s Gospel—a more profitable way to handle such grievances—helps us to confront the person directly, but with charity in our heart.  (Oftentimes, it may be a while before we “calm down” to the point where this can occur. Actually, we have a “duty” to resolve the issue and our failure will show a lack of love for the other person.) 

Confrontation involves risk, and requires courage on our part.  Sometimes, though, a little honesty may be all that is needed to “clear the air.” The person may not even be aware of the extent of the hurt they caused, and may “see the light” at once, becoming won over to your perspective.  Such confrontation should never be done in anger or annoyance.  Nor should it be one with a deep desire to “get even.”  It must be done out with true charity toward the other person, not simply to appease wounded pride.  Also, before we do it, we should examine our own possible participation in the incident!  We may be partly to blame….

The highest position we can attain in a confrontation is when we enable the other person to understand what was done wrong, and condemn it in themselves.  If they repent, forgiveness should be warm and without limits or conditions.

Contrarily, if they refuse to comprehend the seriousness of their transgression; or how we became offended; then we should seek advice from one or more wise people, enlisting their help to face the antagonist.  The rabbis of old had a very wise saying in such matters: “Judge not alone, for none may judge alone but God.” 

Failing this, we should then approach the community as a whole (not necessarily members of the Church.)  Community could mean family members, or some other concerned and responsible people with whom you and the other person may respect and/or have a relationship.  The whole aim of the exercise is not to “score points” against one’s brother, but to help him to amend his ways and become reconciled.  Seeking reconciliation is, according to Christ, More important even than offering sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24.)

At the end of the day, reconciliation may prove to be impossible.  Then it may be the joint decision of you and the community to ostracize the offending party, (or even seek judicial avenues against them.) Properly approached, such eventualities are in the best interest of the group, as a whole, and can lead to growth for everyone.  In the final analysis, we must proceed in the manner in which Christ has directed us. 

Always mindful that we have a responsibility to one another, the duty to speak out falls most heavily to the leaders of our communities.  But every Christian must guard against demurring in the face of injustice, as our silence may be taken as approval.  In so doing we may well share responsibility for the evil that is occurring. 

Confronting offenders in the right spirit, with genuine concern must always be our “starting point.”  The eventual outcome may take many forms, even leading lead to heated disagreement, but properly approaching matters at the outset has a much better chance for a satisfactory resolution. 

 May God Richly Bless You!

“To admonish is better than to reproach for admonition is mild and friendly, but reproach is harsh and insulting;

and admonition corrects those who are doing wrong, but reproach only convicts them.”
― Epictetus, Enchiridion and Selections from the Discourses

To  view a live stream of the Liturgy of the Word for today, click here: https://youtu.be/tyPhcdEDQlo 


Just As I Am.docx

Just As I Am.mp3

Edited by Father Michael
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