Sunday, September 7, 2014

Homily Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A September 7, 2014

          In our second reading today St. Paul tells us “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;”   
          Now as a Paulist I like and respect St. Paul, but I think St. Paul here is off-base.  I know he says “Owe nothing to anyone,” but I do not encourage you to needlessly cut up your credit cards, or return your student loans and drop out of school, or to not get a home mortgage nor an auto loan, etc.  Finance has developed some since St. Paul’s time, and we need to use these financial tools responsibly.   Even your parish owes money.  Quite a bit of it actually.
          The second half of St Paul’s injunction though we do need to pay attention to, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;”    We are most definitely called to love one another.
          In today’s Gospel we have a practical example of how this love plays out in action.  For the love we owe each other is not just some warm, fuzzy feeling of good will.  No.  This love is very concrete and practical and needs to be put into practice.
          What Jesus describes as an instance of this practical, down-to-earth, concrete love is sometimes called “fraternal correction”.  
          Jesus said to his disciples:  “If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” 
          This is a practical instance of the love we owe each other.  Living together in community we will occasionally, intentionally or not, sometimes bump into each other, bruise each other physically or emotionally, insult, demean or hurt one another.  Stuff happens.  Whether it is family, or work, or parish, stuff happens.
          When it does Jesus tells us what to do.  First of all He tells us NOT to ignore it.  Indifference is NOT what we owe each other, because indifference is not love, not loving.  Indifference and writing others off is easier, but it is not Christian.
          Jesus tells us NOT to go and tell everyone else.  “Do you know what that so-and-so did to me the other day?”   Rather, Jesus tells us    When you go and tell a third party that is called “triangulation”, and Jesus tells us NOT to do that.  Tell the offender alone.  It is no one else’s business.
           And of course Jesus instructs us to go and interact with the offender.  Why?  To put them down?  “You dirty so-and-so, look what you did to me!”    NO.   Jesus tells us:
 “If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”  That is the goal. This is about winning him or her over, that is, helping them to grow, to understand and accept the consequences of their actions, to become more mature and Christ-like, and to move forward in love.   That is the whole purpose of this confrontation.
          Fraternal correction, done well, is very helpful.  But it is also very risky and often difficult.   So here are some pointers.  Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you,
   So first of all, don’t go spreading it around to everyone else.  But there is someone you should talk to first before going to see your offensive brother, and that is the Holy Spirit. 
          First, take some time to pray asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in this.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an opening, and words that will truly help your offensive brother.  Pray that the offender will be open and receptive, able to hear the genuine concern you have for him or her.  So first of all pray.
          Second, think about how to do this in a way that will succeed in bringing your brother around and help him or her grow as a person.  What is a good time?  When is he or she most disposed to be open and accepting?  How can you best phrase this to clearly express your concern, not sounding condemning nor condescending? 
          Third, make your correction.  We all are responsible to each other for assisting each other in growth.  Make the correction with gentleness, not coming on like an authority, but out of genuine concern for the other person.
          If the person responds in openness and realizes their fault, and even thanks you for your help, then give thanks to God for that great grace.  Truly the Holy Spirit has touched that person’s heart and you should thank the Holy Spirit.
          But if the person rejects you, scoffs at your attempt to correct him or her, even insults or threatens you, then you just have to withdraw and ask the Holy Spirit for patience, and for the Holy Spirit to keep working to touch that person’s heart.   Ultimately we do not change our brothers and sisters.  They change themselves under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 
          Fraternal correction is a debt we owe to each other.  We as a community are called to grow in the image and likeness of Jesus.  It is a difficult task for every one of us, and we owe each other the help, the guidance and the support of genuinely fraternal correction. 
          May we pay our debt to each other in helping all of us to grow in the image of Christ. 


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