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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - Words Should Not Be Weapons

Bishop Barron - Words Should Not Be Weapons

Bishop Barron - Words Should Not Be Weapons

Peace be with you. Friends, the Gospel for today is a very important theme, the theme of, to give it its traditional name, fraternal correction. So the act and the art of constructive criticism of our brothers and sisters. Now, here's the problem right away, is in our culture there's kind of paradox or a dilemma. On the one hand, we're a very nonjudgmental society. It's about the worst thing you can be is judgmental towards someone, or discriminate against them, or tell them they're doing something wrong. "Who are you to tell me what to do"? That's deep in our cultural DNA. But at the same time, let's be honest, and here's the paradox, at the same time, we are hypercritical of each other. We critique each other for our political point of view, for the way we look, for the positions we take on social media. Social media, don't get me started. Talk about the prevalence of criticism!

Some of the most unconstructive criticism that you can possibly imagine. Something I often recommend to people that come to me for spiritual direction is do an examination of conscience at the end of the day. How critical was I of other people today? And how constructive was that criticism? Most of us sinners will accuse ourselves, if we're honest, of a lot of violations of this principle. So, don't judge, we're non-judgmental; but yet we're judging all the time. So here's the question: What does the Bible have to say about this? Actually, an awful lot. And the readings for today, especially the Gospel, are super helpful. First of all, over and against the sort of modern liberal etiquette, the Bible does indeed think that we should engage in fraternal correction.

So listen to the prophet Ezekiel. That's our first reading for this weekend. "You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me". That's harsh and direct stuff, isn't it? That's the Lord addressing a prophet. Well, every baptized person listening to me right now: we're all prophets. By virtue of our Baptism, we're priests, prophets, and kings. So don't think, "Oh, that's just for people like Ezekiel". No, no; every one of the baptized should hear these same words. "You, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel". By the way, what's the Church, according to Paul, but the new Israel? Keep that in mind. "When you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me".

Do we know the teaching of the Lord? Do we know what the Lord desires? Do we ever rouse ourselves to warn others, yes, even our fellow church members, to warn them in regard to the Lord's teaching? This is anything but, let's face it, anything but a live and let live approach, or "Who am I to judge"? This is a pretty direct command. Now, what's the ground for this? Well I'd say first of all that there is a clear objective norm for the moral life. I know a lot of voices today want to say the opposite: that morality is just a matter of convention. "I got my values, you got yours". And that's why, "I don't judge you, you don't judge me".

But the Bible has no truck with that kind of relativism and subjectivism and indifferentism. No, no; the Bible holds to an objectivity to moral value. Why? Because moral value is grounded in the law of God, which in turn is grounded in the very being and nature of God. So it's not a matter of my private opinion, your private opinion. No, no; there's a legal structure to the moral life. It's objective. Second consideration: we are not simply individuals in the biblical view of things. Israel saw itself very much in a corporate sense. The body, the people Israel. And then, it just gets intensified in the New Testament. Paul's great imagery of the Church as a Body that comes up into the Catholic tradition in this idea of the Church as the Mystical Body of Jesus.

If Christ is the Head and we are the members, we're the parts of that Body, what does that mean? That means that it's not just a matter of my living out my private spiritual life. No, no; I'm part of this great organism of the Church, and therefore if there's something seriously wrong with the way you're living the spiritual life, I can't just say, "Well, that's your problem. You worry about that". No, that's necessarily our problem. It's like a healthy organ saying to a diseased organ, "Well, that's for you to worry about". In time that's going to affect the entirety of the body.

So in the spiritual order. We are on for each other. That's the point. We can't retreat into a private subjectivism, a "live and let live". That's just not a biblical take. Okay, so that's the whether, if you want. That's the whether we should engage in fraternal correction. I think from Ezekiel on, the biblical answer is yeah, we should. Okay. So what about the how? How do you do it? Well, here the Gospel I think is enormously helpful, and I recommend you just turn to it in the Gospel of Matthew and read and re-read this passage, which goes through the steps of fraternal correction, and I think in a very helpful way. Listen now as the Lord begins. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone".

There is a world of spiritual significance, isn't there, in that little statement? See, what is the instinct that all of us sinners have? Your brother sins against you, and mind you, we're talking about a real offense! Some real injustice has been done to you. Okay. It's not just some little hang-up you have. Something objectively wrong was done to you. What do most of us do? The last person we talk to is the one who did it. Rather, we tend to go to everybody else and complain about it. Easier? Yeah, sure it is. That's why we all do it. Now, too, add social media to it. Now go on social media, complain to the whole world about some injustice done to you. But the Lord doesn't say that. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone".

There's the first step. There's the first step. And how difficult it is! I get it, I know. I resist this as well. But how beautiful and how constructive that is for you to go, without telling the whole world. What does that accomplish? It just attacks that person. It just undermines that person's reputation. Go to him alone, and out of love and concern, not broadcasting it to the whole world, see if you can find a resolution. And you find this now, fellow sinners, I know how hard this is, but when we do this, in my experience, a surprising amount of the time, we do make real progress. We do address the problem positively and constructively when we go to the individual and say, "Look, you said something, you did something to me that really hurt me".

I find the vast majority of the time the person acknowledges it, apologizes. You've won your brother or sister over. You've not advertised the problem to the whole world. What a beautiful constructive step. So when we're offended, and let's face it we're all offended all the time, because we're sinners living in a world of sinners, so it's bound to happen, think of this: go to him or her alone and share the difficulty. There's step number one. And how significant and constructive that is. Okay? But let's suppose it doesn't work. And that does happen. You go to the person, you say, "Look, you've hurt me, you've offended me, you've done something unjust to me," and they just write you off; they ignore you; they tell you, "No, no; it's your problem. You've been offending me". It doesn't get anywhere.

Well then what do you do? "Well then go on the internet, and complain to the whole world"! No, no; let's take this thing slowly. Listen to what the Lord says: now bring one or two others into the conversation. Not the whole world; bring one or two others now into the conversation. Now, anyone that's ever been involved in a 12-step process, when you're trying to help someone come to grips with an addiction, what they often do is have what they call an intervention. It's not one person, but it might be just a small group, might be three or four people from that person's life, maybe different aspects of his life, all bringing to bear the same problem. All saying, "You know, I've noticed your drinking has hurt you at work," and "I've noticed it has hurt you in your family," and "I've noticed it hurt you with your friends".

How effective that can be. Not the whole world; two or three others, a small group, all of whom are witnessing to the same problem. Boy, that can have a tremendously powerful effect. Maybe you yourself didn't have that effect, but boy, when three or four others, two or three others are brought in? Now the person is willing to listen. Okay? Suppose that doesn't work. He says, "You're all crazy. I'm not listening to any of you. You're all out of your minds". The Lord says, then "tell the church". Now, mind you, we're talking about the first century here. The ekklesia being referred to is not one of our four-thousand family behemoth parishes. So, "Hey, we tried. I tried to talk to the person, then we brought two or three others, and he wrote us all off. So now let's put it on the website for the entire parish". No, no; the ekklesia here we're talking about is probably a still comparatively small group of like-minded disciples of the Lord Jesus. "Oh, I tried three or four people, so I'm going on the internet"!

No man; leave the internet out of it. Go to a small and select group of the ekklesia, the community gathered around the Lord Jesus Christ, and let them speak to the person about the offense done. Now, notice something here everybody. We're following in the more interpersonal order what's called in the social teaching of the Church the principle of subsidiarity. It's a really good principle, really illuminating. Subsidiarity says basically this: in the adjudication of difficulties, and again usually it's talking about in the economic and political order, in the adjudicating of difficulties, always have a prejudice for the most local solution. Start as small as you can, and only when the problem can't be adjudicated at that level, do you move to the next highest level. Don't go rushing from the local community to the president. No, no; go step by step, always having a prejudice in favor of the more local solution.

I think this is a beautiful example of subsidiarity at the interpersonal level. Start as small as you can: you go talk to the person. That doesn't work? Go to the next highest level: bring two or three others. That doesn't work? Then go to the church. You see that instinct is so good. I've said this before, those who've been watching or listening to my homilies over the years. When I was a professor at Mundelein Seminary years ago, there was a student who was mad about something in the liturgical life of the seminary. And this is true. He wrote two letters; he wrote one to Cardinal Ratzinger, who at the time was like the chief doctrinal officer of the universal Church, and he wrote a letter to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I'm not joking! Well, Ratzinger didn't respond, but Mother Teresa did! She wrote back to the student and she said, "I believe this is a problem that you should address to the rector of the seminary". Very wise.

Mother Teresa was following the principle of subsidiarity. This should be handled first at the most local level. Think of that now, everybody, when it comes to fraternal correction. Start as small as you can. Just you talk to the person. Then the next highest. Then the church. But now, watch how this ends, it's very interesting. Suppose the person doesn't even listen to the church. Then what? Then, the Lord says, "treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector". Now, sounds pretty dismissive doesn't it? Like, "Well, I'm through with you. That's it. We're done". No, but wait a minute: How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He was pretty nice to them, wasn't he? Jesus always engaged in the outreach to those who were on the margins. Never give up, in other words! You followed this principle, good, and it didn't work, and he's still not responding. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Keep reaching out. Keep trying. Don't just wait.

"I'm going to wait here till you come crawling to me. No, no; if you want, you go. You keep crawling to him. Treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector". And then how beautifully, I'll close with this, how this passage ends. It ends with the famous line about prayer: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them". What do you do finally when it comes to fraternal correction? You pray. "That person has never responded! I talked to him, two or three others, then we brought the whole church. He never responded"!

Okay. You know what you do next? Gather two or three people from the ekklesia, from the community. Pray for them. "Where two or three are gathered. there am I" in their midst... The Lord himself will be in your midst. Fraternal correction? You bet. We're on for it. They're objective moral values, and we are part of a Mystical Body, so we can't retreat into privacy. "Hey it's not my business". Yes, it is your business. "I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel". How do you do it? Subsidiarity. Follow this principle. I think you'll find fraternal correction can be something which really is filled with the Holy Spirit. And God bless you.
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