Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Duty of Christian Charity: Correcting your brother!

The absence of fatherly discipline and fraternal correction- in both the natural and the spiritual order –has led to a breakdown of unity within the Catholic Church. With the breakdown of unity, the effective communication of the truth and its assimilation is compromised. Everyone knows that a mother and a father need to be on the same page in rearing their children. Why? Because conflicting messages lead to confused ideas about how to act. But not everyone knows that the same principle also applies to the spiritual fathers and teachers of the Church. Indeed, some consider it “unChristian” to correct and discipline. Nevertheless, a person well versed in the New Testament, early Christianity and the writings of the Saints will undoubtedly recognize that such a supposition is far from the truth. As for Pope Benedict XVI, he said the following on September, 4th in 2011:

• “We must practice both brotherly correction, which requires a lot of humility and simplicity of the heart, and praying, so that it might rise to a God from a community truly united in Christ..”

• “Brotherly love comes with a sense of mutual responsibility; therefore if my brother is at fault against me, I must use charity towards him and, first of all, speak to him personally.”

• “And what if my brother does not listen?” the pope said. “Jesus, in today’s Gospel, tells us to go gradually. First, try to speak to him again with two or three other people in order to help him better realize what he did. If, despite this, he still rejects your criticism, you must tell the community. And if he does not even listen to the community, he must be made to see the gap he has created, by separating himself from the communion of the Church...”

In the early Christian era, fraternal correction and fatherly discipline was seen as act of charity. This truth is conveyed in the Rule of St. Augustine. This rule, authored by the great African Saint himself, was used for centuries to come in religious and monastic communities. As such, the Church’s unity was better preserved and the Gospel was more effectively communicated abroad. The following passage is from the Rule of St. Augustine:

• “If you should detect this wantonness of the eye of which have been speaking in any member of your brotherhood, forthwith admonish him that the evil thus begun may not grow worse but may be corrected by your charity. But if, after this warning, the same fault is perceived in him on that or another day, the fact must be disclosed as a wound that needs cure. Beforehand, however, let it be brought under the notice of one other, or at most of a third person, in order that the culprit may be convicted by the mouth of two or three witnesses and may be corrected with due severity.

Nor are you to consider that you are acting in an uncharitable manner when you thus point out your neighbors’ faults. Or the contrary, you cannot be free from blame if by your silence you allow your brethren to perish, when by pointing out their faults you might have corrected them. For if your brother had some bodily wound which he wished to hide through fear of the surgeon s knife, would it not be cruel to keep silence and merciful to reveal the wound?

How more, then, are we bound to reveal that which will cause a worse corruption in the heart! But, first of all, before bringing it to the notice of others who are to convict him on his denial, it should be put before the superior in case he has neglected to amend after having once been warned in order that if possible, his fault may be corrected privately and may not need to be made known to the rest of the community. Then, if he should still deny the charge he must be confronted publicly with the other witnesses so as to be convicted not by one mouth alone, but by many. And when his guilt has thus been proved he must submit to such punishment as the superior, whose office it is to inflict penalties, may think fit to impose. Should he refuse to perform his penance, and has not departed of his own accord, he must be cast out of your society.

Nor is such treatment cruel, but merciful, for many must not be suffered to perish by the pestilent example of one. And what has been said here with respect to the custody of the eyes should also be faithfully observed in all cases where faults are discovered, forbidden, denounced, proved, or judged. Yet remember to let love of the sinner be ever united to hatred of his sin. But if anyone shall have gone so far in evil as to have secretly accepted letters or presents and of his own accord confess having done so let him in that case be forgiven and prayed for. If, however, the fault be discovered, and he be convicted, then must he be very severely punished at the will of the superiors.”