Our Lord outlines for us one of the most important disciplines that Catholics and all Christians should take to heart: fraternal correction. In a society where many people lack moral courage, the authentic practice of fraternal correction is more urgent than ever.
Our society cringes at the thought of confrontation or contradiction for fear of “offending” another person or seeming “judgmental.” In some cases, so many people have lost a sense of sin that they become unable to clearly recognize evil. In other instances, there is simple indifference to sin itself.
The Gospel mandate for fraternal correction expresses Jesus’ desire for us to fight against the aforementioned tendencies. It should be noted, however, that Our Lord does not prescribe fraternal correction just so we can find a Gospel-endorsed reason to seek confrontations or to judge another person’s state of soul or whether or not the person will be saved (the definition of true “judgmentalism”). Rather, Our Lord mandates that we owe each other, as a matter of justice, the charitable act of correcting each other out of love for God and the salvation of the soul of the person who has committed a wrongdoing or shown a lack of good judgment.
The prescripts for fraternal correction are very clear. First, Jesus reminds us to approach the transgressor alone in an attempt to point out the sin, and with a desire to win the sinner over to Christ. Simply winning the argument or making the best case for the correction is not the object of fraternal correction. Instead, assisting in the conversion of the sinner and aiding him to know Christ is the main goal.
If the offending person does not listen, one or two other people should be invited to participate in the correction. In this way, the sinner cannot simply claim that the correcting party is trying to “single them out.” If others perceive the same sin and resulting problems, this testimony along with the original claim carries more weight.
If the second level of correction proves unfruitful, the case should be taken for judgment by the Church. If that also proves unsuccessful, the person should be removed from participation in the community until he repents of his sin.
In other words, there is no absolute mandate that offending parties should be allowed to remain in the Church at all costs. Sometimes, it is necessary to remove individuals from the Church because of the scandal that can be given by their obstinate behavior. Jesus gives the Church the authority to remove individuals from the ranks of the Church itself by imparting upon the disciples the authority to bind and loose sins on earth and in heaven.
The practice of fraternal correction assumes several factors. First, a sin has been committed and it can be identified. Second, a person of goodwill and moral rectitude comes forward to make the correction. Third, other persons and the Church must be willing to intervene if called upon. Fourth, the Church has the courage to remove a recalcitrant sinner from the ranks of the faithful until the sinner repents.
Clarity of thought, purity of intention and courage to take the right (and at times difficult) course of action will help sinners repent of their transgressions and lead souls to Christ. “In the end, action must be taken because all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).