Homily: 23rd Sunday in O.T.
We are familiar with the Filipino saying: “Wala ka ngang ginawang masama, wala ka rin namang kabutihang nagawa”. It points out to two things that we must avoid: (1) the sin of omission (of not doing the good that we must do when given the opportunity); and (2) the wrong notion of Christian charity (that is, the “mind-your-own-business” morality, wag makialam sa buhay ng iba, kahit na nakikita mong mali na ang ginagawa nila).
We may think that for as long as we don’t hurt anybody, okay lang: we are still exercising Christian charity. But charity is more than just to avoid causing pain or hurt to our neighbors. Christian charity is actively doing what is good for our neighbor. This, in a nutshell, is what the Church reminds us today through our readings.
How deep is your concern for your neighbor? What good things are you willing to do to show them your charity? Let us reflect on our readings to find out what the Church suggests we must do to exercise Christian charity, that is, fraternal correction. (Fraternal correction is here taken to mean the admonishing of one's neighbor by a private individual with the purpose of reforming him or, if possible, preventing his sinful indulgence.)
In the First Reading, the Lord warns us against a sin of omission: that of not giving fraternal correction to a brother or sister who is wrong. The Prophet Ezequiel says: “If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death”. Mortal sin is called “mortal” because it brings death to the soul: the soul is deprived of God’s grace which is its life.
Sometimes, we are afraid or ashamed of telling a friend, a brother or a sister that what they are doing is a mortal sin because it might hurt them. We prefer not to tell them that cohabitation (living together without marriage) is mortal sin, that masturbation is mortal sin, etc. because they might get hurt. Our fear of hurting their pride hinders us from giving them fraternal correction, from showing Christian charity. The Lord says: “they shall die for their guilt – mortal sin – but I will hold you responsible for it” (sin of omission). He is saying, “If you really are concerned for your neighbor, then, try your best to warn them of their wicked deeds. Motivate them to soften their hearts and to listen to God’s voice” (as we prayed in the Responsorial Psalm). Now, that’s authentic Christian charity!
In the Second Reading, St. Paul exhorts the Romans and us, today, to follow the command of the Lord to “love one another for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. All the commandments are summed up in the law of Christian charity. “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law”.
We should not let our zeal and our love for the law hinder us from fulfilling the law of love. Our eagerness to follow the norms in school, in the office, in our community, should not make us neglect the most fundamental law: the law of charity. It should not make us so stiff and tough in our dealings with others and forget that the law is basically fulfilled whenever we show charity to them. The law is there for correctional purposes only. What really matters is charity.
This is exactly what Jesus wants us to understand in the Gospel today. He is saying that we must do fraternal correction in a loving way. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. If not, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church…” Three steps to a fruitful and loving dialogue: (1) truthful confrontation; (2) sincere communication, and (3) loving compassion.
Truthful confrontation must be done by distinguishing clearly the person from the evil deeds he/she has done. To distinguish person from action is not easy because our immediate tendency is to identify both. But Christian charity demands that we condemn the evil action but that we have compassion for the person. The evil action cannot be undone anymore. But the person who committed it can still be converted.
Sincere communication demands that we tell the person that his action is wrong, not because it goes against our self-interest. We do fraternal correction not just because we are offended but because the person has committed an objectively wrong action that offends God. We correct the person’s behavior because it degrades him. But we must be sincere enough to ensure that fraternal correction is not done for our personal interest.
Lastly, loving compassion must be the motive of our fraternal correction. It is harder to give correction than to receive one. That is why it is an authentic manifestation of Christian charity to give fraternal correction: because it is hard to do but it does so much good to our neighbor.
May we learn to make good use of this very Catholic way of loving in our efforts to live to the fullest the virtue of Christian charity. May the Blessed Virgin Mary help us to be courageous enough to exercise Christian charity through fraternal correction. Amen.