SEPTEMBER 4, 2005, 23RD SUNDAY: EZ 33:7-9; ROM 13:8-10; MT 18: 15-20


IF A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH SINS GO AND POINT OUT THE FAULT WHEN THE TWO OF YOU ARE ALONE.
This is the first sentence of today's Gospel. The last sentence states: WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED TOGETHER IN MY NAME THERE AM I AMONG THEM. The two ideas expressed strike one as envisaging two certainly very different kinds of gathering. In the first one person takes another aside, in private, to point out a fault; in the other, a few associate agree to meet so as to witness to faith in the Lord Jesus.   Matthew, however, must have seen a connection between the two so closely does he associate them in his account. Probably these words were spoken by our Lord on distinct occasions and circulated as separate sayings. Later, when organizing his gospel Matthew brought them together from the oral traditions circulating in the Church

The procedure to follow in giving correction when called for arises in every community. Even in a small group of well disposed persons situations occur that require correction in one form or another. The early Church was evidently  no exception. Matthew accordingly, records the directives that
Jesus had given on the subject. Correcting another who is in the wrong is usually a rather delicate matter. Some persons are very vulnerable, easily take offence or experience any effort to correct them as au unwelcome intrusion or worse. When such correction is made in public it more readily is taken amiss and can rather be a source of harm than of improvement or help. However, correction made with a right intention and with consideration for the sensibility and the good of one corrected is an expression of love. It is at times a duty. This applies not only to superiors, teachers and to parents, but also to friends and associates. Interestingly, the original text of the Gospel seems to have said 'If a member of the Church sins against you, point out the fact'. Later, after further experience against
you' was left out- it does not appear in some early manuscripts- so that the duty of correction is not confined to instances where the sin is against the one correcting; any member of the congregation has a right to correct an offender. The underlying principle being that a sin by any individual of the
community affects all.

A correction made with sensitivity and from concern for the other can lead not only to a change of behavior but may be an occasion for an important change of attitude. "The wise when rebuked will love you." (Prov 9:8) Moreover, the effort required to make a correction in a constructive manner
changes the one doing the correction whether or not the person corrected responds well. The pains taken to avoid harsh language or tone, to find the right words and manner, to avoid a show of impatience or annoyance contribute to forming a more kind and thoughtful manner. To treat some one
who is in the wrong with consideration and yet honest and frank justice may give a needed sense of personal worth to the one corrected. I had an instructive experience of this kind of response in  treating one of the first patients in a psychiatric clinic. A difficult character who had been in therapy some time earlier with no significant change, he had recently been released from prison and was on probation, constrained to come to the clinic by his probation officer for he was reverting to old ways. After a
couple of sessions I told him frankly but without anger or resentment that I found his manner of addressing me unacceptable. I explained that unless he showed appropriate respect I could not be of use to him. He argued against this but had no choice. Nobody, including his father, had ever corrected him in that way, leaving further discussion open but making a reasonable demand. On this basis and in spite of ups and downs he learned to change- and I too was taught by him. Eventually, he improved enough that he went to graduate school and got a PhD in psychology!

There are instances when an adult who has never encountered such treatment in a personal relation changes his way of relating to others and develops a more positive sense of self-worth occasioned by such a correction. He learns the truth of the wise man's words: "An ornament of gold is a wise rebuke to a listening ear (Prov 25:12)."  Charity takes many forms; correction is one of its more challenging requirements at times. In his final sentence, Jesus speaks of those who, agreeing in their faith in him, by common consent come together in his service, whether for prayer or to carry out some worthy
project. He assures us that in such a gathering he is present among them, to assist and to welcome their efforts. His presence is an expression of his approval and of his love. Here we have come together to give him thanks and seek his grace in the Eucharist. May his presence among us and within us,
assure that we serve him faithfully, and remain united in his love, to the glory of God the Father.


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Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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