“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.
This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff).
Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt ). The verb used to express fraternal correction - elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy.
It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness.
Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way” (Gal 6:1).
In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness… There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.
2012 Lenten Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Reflection – And so the ‘hits’ keep on coming. The Pope is really challenging us in this Lenten message. So often we think that being ‘loving’ towards others is the same as being ‘nice’ to them. Everyone is nice! Everything is nice! Nicey-nice-nice!
But if my brother is committing a grave evil, that is not nice. If my sister is doing something that may imperil her soul, that is not nice. And if I am silent about this, maybe I’m not being so nice, either. Not so much loving.
This does not mean we are to be perpetual scolds, of course. Soon no one would listen to us, if that was our normal practice. There is prudence and a true delicacy of love needed here. We cannot whap each other freely with the big baseball bat of Truth.
But we have to be able to call a spade a spade. We have to be able to say that the use of contraceptive devices and chemicals to prevent pregnancy is a grave evil. We have to be able to say that homosexual intercourse is a grave evil. We have to be able to say that cohabitation before marriage is a grave evil. And we must—we absolutely must—continue to say that abortion is a grave evil.
Not speaking out of anger, or hatred, or contempt, but out of a passionate love for those who are engaged in those practices. We cannot allow the world to go on its merry way to perdition, not without at least trying to cry out against it, so as to save at least some people from the wreckage.
This is deeply challenging, of course. Deeply confronting for all of us: how are we to love? How much do we love? And of course, I am a sinner, too. I need to be admonished for my sins, and had better welcome that from others, if I want to call myself a Christian.
But here it is: the ever deepening challenge to love and serve, not only in ways that may make us feel good, but in ways that are likely to be resented or rejected, that are likely to bring us trouble and turmoil. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us, and teach us how to love as you loved the Pharisees, as you love us.