On Fraternal Correction

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Victor Feltes

Back in your school days, did you ever have a teacher whom you really liked teaching you a subject you would not have otherwise cared about? The winsome way your teacher presented the material, and your personal respect and affection for her or him, motivated you to learn. Even back then, you recognized that your best teachers were not there to control or manipulate you, to make you obey just so they could collect a paycheck. You knew they wanted to give to you a good gift: knowledge, for the improvement of your life. You behaved better in their classrooms and gave your best effort in their classes because you knew they cared about you and willed your good. This common experience of excellent teachers helping students absorb lessons they would have otherwise rejected contains lessons for how we ought to fraternally correct one another.

But are Christians supposed to correct the sins of others? You may recall last week’s reading from St. Luke’s Gospel where Jesus said: “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” From this one might conclude we should never correct anybody; for how could we ever correct anyone without judging something they did as wrong? (Among some people today, “Don’t judge” is the only fragment of the Gospels they ever quote.) Yet, Jesus declares in a later chapter of this very same Gospel of Luke: “If your brother sins, rebuke him…” What is going going on here?

The judgement of human souls properly belongs to God, who alone peers into hearts and minds with perfect clarity, justice, and mercy. Yet Christians are called to help others see their errors and change their ways when the actions they are doing are wrong. This is part of being our “brother’s keeper,” to have care and concern for another’s soul. As St. James writes in New Testament letter: “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Even Jesus’ parable today states that the purpose of removing the beam from your eye is so “you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” That’s an image of fraternal correction; helping remove a harmful impediment so another may see more clearly and live more fully.

If you required eye surgery, in what manner would you want the procedure performed on you? I would want someone to do mine calmly, skillfully, as painlessly as possible while accomplishing what must be done, and in a sterile environment. Likewise, when you correct someone, do it calmly and if possible in a private place in order to minimize their embarrassment. Approach the encounter with prayer so that you may cooperate with God’s grace and choose words which are as firm as is necessary and as gentle as possible. Your critique may be hard for the other person to swallow so perhaps serve it to them inside of a “Compliment Sandwich.” First, express something true and admirable about them, then share your correction, and close with another personal praise or by affirming your friendship. It is much easier to accept correction from a friend who sees the good in you, than from a stranger who does not. Or, in lieu of a face-to-face interaction, sometimes a thoughtfully-written, signed letter can be a good approach. In any case, if we are going to correct another about something we need to be walking-the-walk ourselves, lest we undermine our own words by our poor example.

Jesus’ parable today highlights a common human problem: we more readily see faults in others than see them in ourselves. We note the splinter in our neighbor’s eye but do not perceive the wooden beam in our own. There are multiple psychological reasons for this, so we must act against our bias towards self-blindness to see ourselves truly, in order that we may grow. A passage from the Book of Proverbs teaches that if you correct a fool he will hate you, but if you correct a wise man he will love you for it. So when someone corrects you, receive the message gracefully. Even if they are only half-right, take that half to heart. And if they are totally off base, let their criticism roll off your back without holding a grudge.

Remember that the person over whom you have the greatest control, and whom you have the greatest responsibility to convert, is yourself. In your prayers this Lent, which begins this Wednesday, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your true self to you. Seeing yourself through the loving eyes of our Lord is likely to both challenge and console to you in surprising ways. Jesus says, “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” Let Jesus Christ, the greatest teacher, instruct you. He cares about you, has important knowledge to share, and desires your glory to be like his own.

2 Responses to “On Fraternal Correction”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Bravo :)

  2. David Rudmin Says:

    Wisdom 2:12 – “Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”

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