When we were children, most of us, if not all of us, were at times very self-willed. Sometimes, though, in our determination to have things our way, we were wrong or were heading toward something that would be harmful. So, out of love, our parents corrected us. They did this, not to be mean, but to keep us form harming ourselves or others; they did this because they loved us.
You and I belong to the family called Church. From the moment in which we were baptized, we began to have a relationship with Christ and with all the members of the Church which He founded. We cannot separate Christ from the Church, so our relationship is always two-fold: with Christ and through Him with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and with one another within the community called Church.
For the past several weekends, God's Word has instructed us on what it means to have a relationship with Christ, to be and to live as His disciples. Today, a shift occurs whereby, on this weekend and next, God's Word instructs us on what it means to have a relationship with the other members of the Church, to live within the community of disciples.
God desires that every person be saved, that is, come to share eternal life with Him. Out of love, He calls us to union with Christ and to membership within Christ's Body His Church. Now, if we, in turn, love the other members of the Church, we too desire that they be saved. In fact, we support one another on this journey toward our eternal goal by praying for one another, by giving good example through faith-filled witness and by inviting those who have strayed to return home to the Church and to her Lord.
So, then, when one or other of our brothers and sisters sins, we must be concerned out of love. And our concern must lead us to action " again, out of love. God's Word today is clear. In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord uses the image of a watchman, who is to be alert and vigilant in order to warn others of impending harm. “When you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, 'O wicked one, you shall surely die' and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” Jesus in today's Gospel account from St. Matthew instructs us about fraternal correction and the ways in which this correction is to be given within the Church community.
What is also clear is that the reason why we are to correct one another within the Church community is authentic love, that is, concern for the total welfare of the sister or brother who is sinning and, therefore, harming his or her relationship with Christ and the Church.
All of us who belong to the Church have this serious responsibility to warn each other when one of us seems to be going in the wrong direction; kindly yet firmly we must fulfill this responsibility. We do this within the context of our individual vocations.
As bishops and priests, we must stand before the community and proclaim the truth in all its fullness and integrity. We must teach our people, in ways that are clear, respectful and loving, of what it means to live the truth in love, for example, the essential place of prayer in daily life; the privileged obligation of participating in the Mass every Sunday, either at the Vigil or on the day itself; the respect due to every human person from conception to natural death; the duty of acting justly and honestly in the workplace. On the one hand, we must always reveal God's compassion and mercy, yet on the other hand, we must never water-down the truth or run away from our responsibility to guide God's people in the ways of holiness and truth.
Parents, you must guide your children in their on-going formation in the Catholic faith, of which you are the first teachers. Whether they attend Catholic schools or parish catechetical programs, you must encourage them to participate fully in their classes. Discuss with them what they read and hear; help them to see how faith is related to everyday events and real-life issues. Be yourselves models of what it means to live in faith in the real world. Do not be afraid to correct your children when they say or do things that are objectively wrong, but always do so with true compassion and understanding and patience.
Teachers, you too must require serious productive work and respectful relationships among your students, enabling them to understand and to root out the causes of violence and prejudice so prevalent in our society.
The terrible tragedy which the Hurricane Katrina is causing on the Gulf Shore " in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama " affords us the opportunity to teach one another and our children about compassion and sacrificial giving, about honesty and justice, about support and solidarity.
If we truly love one another within the community of the Church, we shall exercise carefully, wisely and faithfully our responsibility to warn those who are heading in the wrong direction toward impending harm to their relationship with Christ and the Church and to lead them back home through responsible love rooted in prayer. St. Paul's words in today's second reading from his Letter to the Romans sum up so well the reason for our loving concern for others and the way in which this is expressed. “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Yes, let us live within the Church with responsible love, one for the other, until we reach our goal: life without end in the presence of God Who is love. Amen.