Sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes, we don’t know that the way we are reaching for our goals is hurtful to others or ourselves, or even that our goals are short-sighted or wrong-headed. Sometimes, we are making objectively bad choices but we don’t know. Someone must tell us.
Jesus instructs his disciples to reach out always in love, go after the “lost sheep,” and work in ways that protect the dignity of the person AND the integrity of the Community. He tells them (and us) to gently and privately point out the fault of another. Why? Because we ARE our brother’s keeper, and we have a responsibility to help them see the fullness of Truth so that they can reach the Heart of the Father. We can and must do this, not because we are better than they are or because we have the right to judge the state of their hearts or souls, but because they are part of the same Body of Christ, and their good is the good of all. Good individuals build good communion.
What if they reject what we say? Jesus tells us not to give up on them, but to invite one or two others to speak to him with you, so that he might be persuaded by the witness of others. Why? If you’ve ever been involved in an “intervention” with someone who is suffering addiction, you know how powerful it is to have several people pleading lovingly and holding up the truth to one who is unable or unwilling to see it. This is also the case when the situation involves spiritual danger rather than physical danger. When confronted with several testimonies, rather than one, it is harder to avoid seeing the full picture.
What if they still refuse to hear us? Jesus says to “tell the Church.” Why? After being called out in love to see the wrong in our choices, it is sometimes necessary to bring it before an authoritative voice, one who has the “grace of office” to speak in the name of the community of Christ’s Body on the issue. Incidentally, this passage also indicates clearly that Jesus came to establish a Church with a visible structure and men whose word has authority: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”! This is to protect the integrity of the community.
What if they reject the word of the Church? Jesus says that it is then necessary to separate ourselves from them (at least until they are ready to listen and live according to God’s Word). Why? Because we absorb the attitudes and actions of others, and the constant presence of opposition drains our psychological and spiritual energies for good. Today, we would say we need to “establish boundaries”. That does not mean we cast them out, stop loving them, or give up on them. We cannot sacrifice the integrity of the community to them, but we can continue to pray.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.