First, as we enjoy the blessing of fine weather, let us remember in our prayers the people of Florida, Houston, and the Caribbean who are suffering the effects of the hurricanes. Lord, look kindly upon them.
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We've all been in an argument. And sometimes its a big argument. An argument about religion or politics-- or even bigger: about marriage or getting sober or you name it. Jesus knows that we argue. And part of the reason why we argue is because we care. We care about people and we care about the Truth. Jesus knows this and He knows that sometimes in those arguments our pride can get in the way. The pride of having to be right. Or, if we are on the receiving end, the pride of not wanting to be wrong.
Enter today's Gospel.
Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
So Jesus is concerned about sin. And He tells us that we are to talk to people about this. “Son of Man,” he says in the first reading from Ezekiel, “I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel; … you shall warn them for me. … If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”
In other words, when Cain killed Abel, God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” And Cain responded by saying, “What, am I my brother's keeper?”
Yes. Yes you are. So, yes, if you are a person of love (are we are all trying to be), then you want more for your neighbor than the wages of sin. You want eternal life for them. That means that we must tell people about the Truth, no matter what. We must live our faith out loud. Jesus died publicly on the Cross-- not privately. Christianity must be lived publicly, not privately.
If there is anything that should be private, it is that we are to “tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Alone. No gossip. (Isn't that interesting? When someone hurts us, we like to tell everyone about it. But when it comes to the Truth of Jesus, it's so easy to tell no one about it). Jesus knows this, so He tells us that, if we have been hurt, tell only the one. No facebook. Don't write anonymous reviews or write anonymous letters.
If it is important to say anything about it, then you must talk with the person, personally and gently, face to face. This is loving. Do it over a cup of coffee or a beer. Be relaxed and courteous, show them somehow that you love them. But be firm. “This is important. And I love you. That's why I'm saying this.”
And maybe they don't listen to you. And that's humbling-- nothing pricks our pride more than someone not caring what we say. (Welcome to the club). But don't get angry. You're just passing on what you are supposed to be passing on. It's not about you. It's about Jesus coming to meet your brother. That's what this is all about.
And so, Jesus promises: “If [your brother] listens to you, you have won over your brother.” Thanks be to God!
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Now, here's the thing: sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we think we have a good grasp on the truth, but maybe we don't. Maybe we have misjudged. Or maybe we have spent all our capital by being nagging or prideful in our approaches. Sometimes our neighbor doesn't seem to have any reason to listen to us because we've been a stranger or we've been scandalous in the way we have lived.
Jesus knows about that, too. So, He says: “If [your brother] does not listen [to you], take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.'” So, if your neighbor has no reason to believe you, maybe he'll believe the others. Maybe they are more trustworthy.
See, Jesus is trying to give your neighbor every chance to believe. This is the way that you prove to your neighbor that this is not a personal vendetta, that you aren't coming with a personal agenda.
And it's also humbling for us because, when we bring this issue to two others, we are submitting our judgment to theirs-- it's humble to say: “Maybe I am in the wrong. Maybe, before I go any further in calling my brother on to holiness, maybe I need to make sure that I'm not in the wrong here.” So we ask two others about it. And if the say, “yeah, you're right,” ok, now go with them and talk to your brother again.
After all, our Lord promises: “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” … See? This is all about Jesus coming to your neighbor.
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Now, let's be brutally honest: very few like to hear how they are supposed to become better. Yet, for as much as we don't like to hear that, we all know that we all have room to grow. Pride is dumb like that because even if it admits that it needs to change, it still won't listen to anybody. The result is that the prideful person becomes alienated, bitter, and lonely.
Jesus is saying: “Won't you listen to me?”
In my own life, I have found that when someone comes to me with the courage to say, “Hey, Father Gerber, have you ever thought about doing such and such?” Or, a friend who calls me out for not being joyful enough or faithful enough-- that's gold in my book. I want to become a saint. And I know the courage it has taken them to give me constructive criticism.
So, if two or more people would come to me and talk humbly to me about a problem-- woah!-- I know it is best for me to listen!
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But even then, some people don't. So, Jesus gives a third chance: “If [your brother] refuses to listen to them, then tell the church.”
The heavy artillery. This is the final authority. This goes back to the past two weeks' conversation about Peter. About how he has the keys and how he is the servant that opens and shuts.
So, when Jesus says “Tell the Church,” He's saying: this is the last chance.
That's amazing, isn't it? How many people think that, when the Church speaks, that is the last chance for conversion? So many people simply dismiss what “the Church” says as if she was just another voice in the public square. But that's the thing: she isn't just another voice. All of these points of advice from Jesus-- about coming as a loving individual, about coming as a group and so on-- all of this is about Jesus coming to the person. The Church is not just another voice-- it IS Jesus' voice.
But I know: one of the reasons why people simply dismiss what the Church says is because some bishops and priests have spoken out of turn. What I mean by that is, too many priests and bishops (and I count myself as guilty in this, too) have spoken from ambos just like this one and declared something to be absolutely true and dogmatic when, in reality, it wasn't. And people sense that error and they lose trust in their clergy.
Priests and bishops, therefore, need to be exceedingly aware of this great trust, this great stewardship of actual doctrine and the treasure of souls, and the essential requirement to be measured in their speech and absolutely certain that what they say is true. If the Church is the final voice of Christ, then wow! We priests and deacons and bishops must be very measured indeed. We must present the entire Truth in all its height and breadth and length and depth, in all its rigor and vigor. (Catechesi tradendae 5 and 30, citing Eph 3:18).
Take the situation of immigration. There have been some that have come out with zealous opinions on current decisions regarding immigration. But the issue is multifaceted and quite complex: even the Catechism notes that immigrants have the duty to “obey [the] laws” of the land and to “assist in carrying civic burdens” (#2241) like paying taxes and so on. So, while we are called to “welcome the foreigner” and the “stranger”-- as Jesus and the same Catechism paragraph notes-- the Church also recognizes that countries have rights and immigrants have duties. Have we heard both sides of this coin? Indeed, failure to express this whole message is a failure to express the Truth. And people sense that. And they lose trust. And they don't listen-- and in that case, rightly so.
This is why we must especially pray for bishops and priests and deacons-- those who are entrusted as the final say in the whole line of Jesus' gospel here. Because if they are ignorant or blinded by the pride of a false compassion-- then... God help us-- who are we supposed to listen to?
Humility and wisdom are essential for the clergy; likewise, a sense of self-critique and self-analysis too.
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And lest we become hypocritical: while we expect it of the clergy, do we then also expect it of ourselves? Am I open to critique? Am I offended or get defensive if someone challenges me? Have I learned to see challenge and correction as a blessing from God? In it, can I see Jesus coming to me, loving me so as to purify me and make me stronger than gold seven times refined, a greater instrument of His grace?
Hear Jesus' last words on the matter: “If [they] refuse to listen even to the church, then treat [them] as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
In other words: If the person is so prideful that they will not listen to Jesus in you-- if they are so prideful that they will not listen to Jesus in the group-- if they are so prideful that they will not trust Jesus in the Church … well, what can you do?
Write them off? No.
What did Jesus do for Gentiles and tax collectors? He lived for them; He died for them; He prayed and He sacrificed for them. That is what we are to do-- for our fallen away; for our clergy; for one another.
And, when you realize that people have done the same for you-- as people have done for me-- when someone comes to you with a heart full of love and says, “Hey, I want more for you. Come walk this path instead of that”-- know that it's Jesus. Don't get defensive. Welcome him. And say thank you. He loves you and He is leading you to the holy life.