Tuesday, 15 March 2016


Let’s get this straight from the beginning! "Correcting the Sinner" adds a new dimension to condemning wrongful or illegal actions. It relates them to Almighty to God. They are offensive to Him, against His will, His expectations of us and even His demands of us. Correcting the Sinner means helping him to restore a wholesome, holy, relationship with God -to share in God’s own holiness. This is a loving merciful thing to do, because it is an attempt to save a person from his ugly, ungodly ways. It is a loving merciful thing to assist someone to become pleasing to, rather than displeasing to God. St. James' letter tells us,
"My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins,"
(James. 5. 19-205. 19-20).
For example, it’s against God’s will for us to be drunken drivers, endangering our own and other people’s lives. That shows a callous disregard, a lack of love, for ourselves and them, as God’s children. It’s an expression of caring compassion to show them a better way, God’s, by urging someone going against God’s will, to seek His forgiveness and, with His help, change their ways.
And yet love demands that we should protect those who are dear to us from ruining their lives. A timely warning could save them. But we fear we could do more harm than good if handled this badly. Tension and hostility would follow -the problem would remains and we ourselves would become problems to the ones we’ve tried to help.
So we think it better to remain silent. But avoiding confrontation for the sake of peace can be a sign of not really caring for those we claim to love. With every good parent we have to admit that the ‘tough love’ of admonishing the wrong-doer is difficult and painful for everyone. God knows we need to pray for prudence in giving advice; we also need to ask the Holy Spirit to touch the minds and hearts of those we are trying to help.
For me the best approach is to be found in two Gospel passages. Let’s start with the parable about the plank and the splinter. In concluding the Sermon on the Mount Jesus condemns our eagerness to correct other people’s minor faults, especially when we are blind to our own major sins, especially of our self-righteousness. So Jesus says,
"Why do you look at the splinter that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the plank that is in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the splinter out of your eye,' and behold, the plank is in your own eye? "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother's eye,"
(Matt.7. 3-5).
So, before pointing out other people’s lesser faults I must first recognise and correct my own greater ones. As we correct the sinner we must show him the same understanding and compassion as we hope to receive from God and those we have offended. That’s very important for us priests when hearing confession.
In the story of the woman taken in adultery Jesus shows the compassion we need when correcting the sinner, (Jn. 8. 2-11). Instead of condemning her to death, as the Law required, He challenged any of her accusers, who was without sin, to cast the first stone. As He began to write in the dust, presumably a list of their sins, they all slipped away. Jesus then told the woman that He, too, would not condemn her. Not that He denied her sin, but in sparing her life and telling her to go and sin more, He gave her the chance to make a fresh start. That’s real compassionate, healing ‘tough love!’
That’s what this Spiritual Work of Admonishing the Sinner is all about. And that’s the point St. Paul makes in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians. After realising the difficulties and dangers in trying to correct the Corinthians, he concludes, "I am writing these things ….which the lord gave me FOR BUILDING UP AND NOT FOR TEARING DOWN,"
(2 Cor. 13. 10).)
Heavenly Father, your Son commissioned His followers to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. We have been baptised to share in that mission.

But we are only too aware of the difficulties of that task. Many people do not know or accept your Son’s teaching and way of life. We realise that teaching includes correcting faults. Few of us welcome that!

Since you have called us to carry out such a difficult and unpopular task we turn to you for help. In correcting others may we always remember that we, too, are sinners in need of correction.

As we condemn sin may we always act out of a spirit of love and respect for the sinner. May our whole purpose be to save him or her from endangering their eternal salvation and from harming other people. May the courage needed to confront others with their sins always be tempered with tact, humility and, above all, love.

We ask you to send your Spirit to teach us your saving truth, to help us repent for the times we have failed to follow your Son and to guide us in helping others to discover your will and rejoice in doing it. Touch their hearts and help them to become open and eager to welcome your healing mercy.

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.

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