The Scripture readings of today’s sacred liturgy are most sobering. Both the reading from the prophet Ezekiel and the Gospel remind us of the reality of sin and our grave responsibility to correct others who are in an objective state of sin. “God will hold us responsible for the sins of others if we fail to warn them of their errors.”(sacerdos.org)
This is serious and an obligation on us.
However, it is not to be understood as “rules for rules sake”. St Paul’s epistle adds to this responsibility the task of love. Correction must always be done in charity.
This is hard
I’ve said many times, because it is true and we need to hear it often, that we and the world we live in are affected by sin and sinfulness.
We need to hear this often not to weigh us down but to remind us of the context in which we live ands we may see again our need for Christ and His salvation.
An illustration may help. After the sin of Eve and Adam and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, you may remember that their first two sons were Cain and Abel. Out of jealousy, Cain murdered his brother. When God asked Cain where was Abel, he replied “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9)
This highlights that along with sin there was the entry into the human heart of a self-centredness that takes no responsibility for another. I suggest that this is one reason why we find the expectation that we warn and correct others of their sin a hard teaching. We resist it because of the effects of sin within us.
But also the type of society we live in does not help us either. Sin has affected our society too. It is infected by the false and harmful notion of relativism.
Relativism says that there is no objective right and wrong. There is nothing equally morally valid for everyone. Instead, relativism says, the only thing that matters is what each individual feels is right and wrong for him/her. In other words, morality is relative to each person.
I hope you can see that if someone thinks that way then if a family member or friend is sinning, the thought would be that that is okay because he/she must think that’s okay so I’d better not interfere.
Relativism sounds nice. It can even sound tolerant and respectful. But it is false, illogical and impractical.
It is illogical because it contradicts itself. The statement “right and wrong is not universal, but personal” is actually a universal statement. It is like saying, “It is objectively true that there is no objective truth.”That makes no logical sense.
But relativism is also impractical – no one actually lives by it, because they can’t. Imagine a high school teacher who failed all his blond-haired students, just because they had blond hair, and in his mind that was a sign that they didn’t deserve to pass.
No one would accept that. It is clearly unfair treatment. But a true relativist would have to accept it, because it must be true for that teacher.
That same illogical and confusedthinking is at the root of what our society tries to tell us about pre-marital sex, same-sex unions, abortion, contraception and cloning.
If someone has a strong desire to do something, as long as they don’t hurt anyone then it’s okay. This is the relativist logic. In other words there are no universal moral standards.There is no such thing as sin.
But that’s like saying there is no such thing as poison. it’s a psychological comfort, but it’s dangerously wrong.
It’s also at the heart of the retort “Who are you to judge?”or “People in glass houses…”It is a false notion that only the perfect can correct others.
For our lives
Knowing all this doesn’t make the teaching of Christ and Scripture any easier. What we hear today is still a hard teaching.
When a brother brought up in the Catholic faith marries outside the Church; when a daughter moves in with her boyfriend; when the issue of same-sex unions comes up on social conversation; or the morality of contraception is debated…or any of the other prickly issues where the world is at odds with the Church…what do we do?
It would be easy if there were a set plan of action that we could just go through from step one to the end and then we would have exercised our responsibility. But no two situations are the same.
There are two guiding principles. We must witness to the truth as Christ and His Church teach us. This will mean we will have to speak up even though that will make us unpopular.
The second is that the love that St Paul speaks of today in the epistle is what we owe to others. To love our neighbours is to be vitally concerned for their salvation and their destiny in eternity.
The words we say, when and how often we say them, the course of action we embark on, will all have to be decided when we arrive in a circumstance that requires us to correct and warn another.
“We must make every effort to win our brothers and sisters back, to turn them from false paths. We should never correct out of anger, or a desire to punish but only because we seek the spiritual and moral good of the other person.”(Scott Hahn – salvationhistory.com)
Let us remember the words of Christ in another place in the gospel. Although Christ was speaking about his apostles and disciples being dragged before courts and kings, in a real sense it can apply to us. Because when we speak up to correct or warn another, we take our stand before the court of judgement of the world.
Christ said, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.”(Matthew 10:19)
The Holy Spirit, who abides with us, will help us in that hour. When that time comes let us ask the Spirit’s effective assistance.