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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. The Gospel this Sunday shines a light on something super-important – whether and how we should engage with fraternal correction. As we know, this is a delicate area but also one where there is a paradox in our culture today. On one hand we object strongly if someone challenges us or judges us – ‘Who are you to judge me and tell me what to do?’ On the other hand, we live in times when we can be very critical and even cruel when it comes to the failings of other people. So then, all the more reason to listen carefully to what the Word of God has to say on this topic.

The first thing to say about the Gospel is that Jesus encourages fraternal correction among us. He wants us to shape and form each other and to have courageous conversations together when necessary – but always in charity and with the eternal good of each other in view. Perhaps this is one of the most important lessons from the Gospel - to take seriously our responsibility towards each other for the eternal salvation of another. To help another claim their eternal salvation is the highest good there is. To lose our soul eternally is the greatest tragedy of all. In the book of Genesis, God asks Cain about the whereabouts of his brother Abel. Cain responds by asking God: 'Am I my brother's keeper?' To which God responds in effect; 'Yes, you most certainly are! (Gen. 4:9).

We are called to help each other and to form each other too. If you put a selection of sharp stones in a drum and keep turning the drum, eventually the stones will come out smooth because each stone knocks the corners off the other. The same is true of ourselves. None of us are perfect and we all have blind spots. What matters is that we know this and have a desire to grow in holiness and improve as people as we go along. It must not be a case of everyone for themselves or looking the other way when someone we know is heading down and path of self-destruction.

The other thing to remember is how we go about this. For the person we challenge, it can only be done with mercy and compassion if it is to go well. If we are the ones challenged, then we must welcome it as an opportunity to grow in love and maturity. The words of St Paul today say it all – ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments’.

What is love? It is willing the good of the other – their good in this life and the next. If everything we say and do is motivated by love and mercy for the other, then we can’t go wrong.

But sometimes others will challenge us when we have been in the wrong. And when they do, our first response might be one of defending ourselves and resentment against the person who has challenged us. But for the mature Christian, the first question we ask ourselves after being challenged is: ‘Is this true?’ Am I like this or did I do this? And if it is true, what can I learn and how can I grow? This takes humility and the grace to ask for forgiveness when we mess up and get it wrong. Pride blinds us. Humility allows us to see.

Finally, in this sensitive area of fraternal correction, in order for it to go well, prayer is so important. If you need to have a courageous conversation with someone, never do it without praying first. If you are the one challenged, pray to see the truth in what was said and to welcome what we have heard. Prayer is the instrument that allows us to form each other and be formed in love and justice in the family of the Church. Better still, pray with the other person as Jesus asks today. So let us be a family who are not afraid to have courageous conversations but always with charity and mercy and always in the spirit of prayer.


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