What exactly did Jesus do during His earthly life?
He preached, He healed people. He performed miracles, made prophecies. He suffered, died, and rose from the dead.
All of this is important; but one other incredibly important part of Jesus' life was forming a community. Right at the beginning of His public ministry, He began gathering a group of people around Him. It started with the Apostles whose names we know well - men He specifically called to join Him; but it kept growing as Jesus traveled the country and proclaimed the Kingdom of God.
Very quickly after Jesus ascended into Heaven, there is a community of disciples living and praying together - a community that still lives today.
We are the Church - the family Jesus started that has existed ever since He walked the earth. All of this tells us that living as a disciple is never meant to be done alone. We are all in this together.
While we all do have our own individual relationships with Jesus, we also have an ecclesial or communal one - together as a Church.
Being a Christian means being a part of this family; but like any family, sometimes we argue. Sometimes we hurt each other.
What Jesus lays out in today's Gospel is how we should respond to brother or sister Christian who sins against us: first, personally approach them; then, if that doesn't resolve the issue, bring a couple other members of the Church; finally, if that doesn't work, it becomes a matter for the whole Church with repercussions.
There are a few things we need to understand about this process that Jesus lays out:
- For Christians, everything is to be done from the perspective of love. As St. Paul says in today's second reading, "Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."
None of what Jesus commands us to do here is about seeking retribution, shaming someone, or making ourselves look good. If that is what is in our hearts, we shouldn't be correcting anyone. The fraternal correction Jesus describes is entirely intended to reconcile a sinner to the love of God and the Church. It has nothing to do with revenge
- We should also recognize that Jesus' words have a particular meaning for the clergy of the Church. Following in the footsteps of the apostles, the bishops and the priests who assist them have a responsibility to call people away from sin and back into the communion of the Church.
This is not always a pleasant responsibility. Sometimes we are called to say rather unpopular things - to speak out against what our culture takes for granted as normal in good. In our time, these are usually issues about sexual morality. Or it may take the form of calling Catholics to live the Gospel and not conform themselves to our present age. No matter what it is, it is not easy or fun.
Sometimes this even requires the kind of public correction Jesus describes - that's when we hear the word "excommunication." But even that has been portrayed as some kind of punishment. In reality, telling someone that they have placed themselves outside of the communion of the Church is designed to encourage repentance. It means that we are called to evangelize and reach out to them.
Clergy are often called to be the watchmen Ezekiel heard about in the first reading: warning people when they are leading themselves into destruction. We will be held responsible for not proclaiming the truth.
Please pray for the pope, the bishops, and your priests - that we may always have the courage to proclaim Jesus' words, even when it is hard.
The point of all of this is that the Lord desires for His children to live in real communion. We are a family - His family - and it should break our hearts to see any one of our brothers or sisters wander away.
All of us are imperfect, but all of us are on the same journey. Let us support one another in repenting of our sins and always moving forward, more and more deeply into the love of God.