23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 10, 2017 [Matthew 18:15-20]
“If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. (Mat 18:15)”
Jesus understands that in any human community, including His own community of disciples, or the Church, there are always members affected by human weakness and sinfulness. Even in the Christ-oriented communities like the religious convents, the parishes, and various ministries and groups in the Church, inevitably we are hurting each other. Thus, Jesus, the Just God and merciful man, outlines a procedure or ‘fraternal correction’ to deal with misunderstanding, quarrels, and conflicts. It begins with the individual and personal encounter, then when it does not work, we ask the help of a witness or mediator, and lastly it goes up to the community level.
Every stage is important, but the first step is always decisive. The first level is challenging because it requires both humility to accept one’s weakness as well as prudence to express the message of reconciliation in a charitable manner. Yet, the temptation is that either we skip this preliminary level or we execute it without charity. Without mercy, things will just get worse, and the individual encounter will collapse or even turn violent. Often also, to avoid direct confrontation, we jump to the next level. Instead talking personally and privately to the person, we expose them to the public. Either we talk behind them, even creating gossips, or we shame and humiliate them in public. I myself are struggling with this process of fraternal correction. I am basically introvert, and I have tendency to keep things to myself and avoid direct confrontation. Things may seem peaceful, but I know I do not resolve the problems.
The first step is fundamental because after all, we all are members the same community, the same Church. We are all children of God, and thus, brothers and sisters to one another. As our Father in heaven deals mercifully with us, we are also learning to deal with others in mercy. Being merciful means willing to talk and try to understand the other side of the corner. Often, after being offended, we just do nothing but harbor prejudices, then fueling more anger and grudges, but perhaps, they have their own stories that need to be heard. Once in my Postulancy, I got annoyed with an outspoken brother who often criticized me. Later, I discovered also many brothers had the same sentiment. Sometimes, things got escalated, and some brothers refused to talk to him anymore. Till one day, we had a faith sharing, and we learned that he came from a dysfunctional family. His father left the family, and as the oldest son, he had to work and assume the responsibilities for his younger siblings. He had a hard life and he had to be tough also to discipline his younger siblings. Then, we understood why he was also tough with us, his younger brothers.
Often we understand the stages of fraternal correction ends with things settled by the community or Church, but actually Jesus offers one final step. We need to pray. Before we begin the entire process, we should pray. When we bring things to God in prayer, we are no longer controlled by emotions, we start to suspect the good in others, and we have more serenity to forgive. At the end of the process, we pray together asking for forgiveness and healing. My friend and brother in the Order, John Paul, does not agree that time heals. For him, time does not heal, but only God heals. We remember that when two or three people, especially those are in conflict, gather together in prayer, Jesus is there.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP