Sunday Sermon for September 7, 2014, the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20
In the second reading today St. Paul tells us that we are to owe nothing to anyone except to love one another. The fact that St. Paul puts this into the category of something that is owed to another person is of great importance. Because each person is created in the image of God, each person is made to love and to be loved. Therefore, to love another is not like a debt that we owe to someone, rather it is a matter of justice flowing from our very creation.
Since love requires that we do always what is the best for others it can be expressed in an infinite number of ways. In the first reading, for instance, we hear about God instructing His Prophet to point out the error of those who sin. This, not the predicting of the future, is the proper task of the prophet. Most of us are not called to such a vocation, but you can imagine the difficulty involved because most people do not want to be corrected regarding their sins.
However, in the Gospel reading our Lord instructs all us of to go to the one who sins against us and point out his sin. If he refuses to listen, we are to go with one or two others to speak to the person. If that also fails we are to go to the Church to address the problem. The purpose of this is not only so that justice can be brought about, but ultimately, it is to be a matter of charity.
Some distinctions need to be made here. First of all, one would not normally bring minor disagreements to the Church or even to one’s friends. But the Lord is not speaking of minor disagreements; rather, He is speaking of something the person is doing that is actually a sin. Even in this regard, there are times where one can just accept the injustice and remain silent. We see this frequently in the lives of the Saints. Even our Lord, in the greatest act of sin and injustice the wold has ever known, chose to remain silent.
This brings us back to the matter of charity. If you are going to speak to someone about their sins, it must be done from a motive of charity. In other words, it cannot be done out of vengeance, pride, or any selfish motive. It must be done for the true good of the other person. In most cases, this suggests that you know the other person well enough to speak with him. For instance, if someone on the street or in a store does something rude, it is usually best to shrug it off and move on. However, if a close friend or a family member did the same thing, it is usually best to address the issue with him.
Because we are to always act out of charity in all we do, the idea of having one or two others involved is not because we were gossiping. We need to keep things to ourselves and bring them to someone else only if there is a need. We have to be careful not to sully the good name of another person. If there is something burning within your heart it is permissible to speak with a confidant about the situation. Of course, the confidant has to be trustworthy so that what you have spoken will not be passed on any further.
Having charity as our motivating principle, we need to remember that prayer is always the greatest act of charity. Before you speak with someone about their sin, be sure to pray and ask for God’s grace to maintain charity in your presentation. Pray for the other person that he will be able to accept what you are telling him. Even if you cannot speak with the person or if you have decided the most charitable thing is to remain silent, it is still an excellent practice to pray for the person.
If there is any forgiveness that is necessary because of the hurt you have endured it is best to let go of the hurt before you speak with the person. This may not always be possible since there are times when you need to address the person in a timely manner. But forgiveness is also part of the charity we have to extend to others. People often ask “What if the person is not sorry for what they did?” Remember that it takes one to forgive, but it takes two to reconcile. If the person is not sorry, will not apologize, or will not admit fault, then it is not possible to reconcile. However, forgiveness, which is an action from within you, can always be given. This is the charity we owe to one another.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.