Homily audio from 10:30 Mass: Click Here
In the Lord of the Rings, one of the greatest images for the Church is found in the house of healing after the great battle. There, the king heals, and the wounds of the past darkness are healed. People are healed together and through each other.
Today the readings speak of what is traditionally known as "fraternal correction," which literally means setting your brother back on the straight or right path. In our world we might refer to it as calling someone out or to the carpet, or "being real," but the readings make a clear emphasis that this is not about a power-game to humiliate another or put ourselves on higher ground; rather, it comes from a sincere concern for the good of another.
We talked about this a lot in seminary and learned how to practice it to some degree. I remember one retreat the director spoke about the need for genuine correction in these words (kind of paraphrased): if your brother seminarian - who one day may be called by God to be a priest and be called "father" after God the Father and be called "another Christ" (alter christus) - if he is out of line and won't listen to reason when you try to speak to him, fraternal charity (in fact what Paul talks about today as the only true fulfillment of the law) charity demands that you take that brother out for a walk, and beat the snot out of him and replace it with some good sense!
Now that was really a joke but he was stressing that we often quit too early on correction, and sometimes the cost of silence is too high, like with a priest, who role is so critical for people's spiritual lives!!
Perhaps a better example of today's gospel is what I heard a friend do at a Notre Dame football game. A couple people in the stands were clearly intoxicated, disruptive, and using foul language. He and those with him turned around and told the men to cut it out. They snapped back and in a minute or so were back at it. They corrected them again, with others in the area joining in, and it worked for a fee more minutes. But after the mouths kept going they got the ND ushers who took those fools away. Like Jesus says, "if they still don't listen, then treat them as you would one of the USC fans." That's the new translation for the word "pagan."
Fraternal correction is one of the casualties of individualism and relativism in our country. With the weakening of universal truth - especially in morality - people feel it is more difficult to confront problems and bring them face-to-face with another. On top of that, individualism has created such isolation that we might not even feel connected and close enough to many people in order to call them to something greater.
We as Christians are meant to be much more than that. We are meant to be different from the rest of the world, and different in a good way. The Christian community of Matthew's time saw the whole Church as a family. They called each other brothers and sisters just like we hear St. Paul say almost every week in the second reading. And they followed Jesus' wisdom for caring for "the family" by observing fraternal correction.
In the family this should be easiest, but even that is not always easy. We can at times try to correct our siblings, and hopefully we provide direction for our children. A family is supposed to be on the same team and working for each other's health, such that one member's success is everyone's, and my sibling's spiritual illness is not her problem, but our problem.
Saint Paul uses the image of the body to emphasize how we are all connected, and how we rely on each other. If one part suffers, all parts suffer, so we should work to remove any poisons or ailments from our body.
And that connectedness and mutual relationship that a body has within itself is critical for fraternal correction. We have to trust each other in order to take constructive criticism. If we don't know that the other person wants what is best for us (and if we don't have the humility to confess that we aren't perfect) then we will not be able to move forward. In many ways it is that stability that comes from trusting each other that sets the foundation for healthy correction. So we have to spend time with each other, and we have to be vulnerable with who we really are. With the erosion of family bonds by both divorce and the hyperactive modern lifestyle, how much time do we allow the family to relax together?? Do we truly share our lives and talk about our passions and aspirations, working out our problems together in mutual support?
That bond that we need to do all this starts here at this Mass. When we began Mass, we confessed our sins honestly. We then let ourselves be taught by the word of God and soon we will profess the faith that unites us. We can trust each other and help each other especially because in the Eucharist, we are one body in Christ, who wants us to be a house of healing for the world.