Sunday, October 02, 2005

Excellent article on rebuking

The following article on the importance and even at times the necessity of rebuking one who is in sin or error may be found at:

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen lamented decades ago, we no longer live in a Christian culture. Bearing this in mind, there are many slogans popping up all around us that serve to blunt our moral sensitivity. The “I’m OK, you’re OK” mentality is so prevalent that the charitable Christian rebuke against immoral behavior is almost extinct. The Ten Commandments has been replaced with: Thou shall not judge.

But let’s put things into perspective. The Church teaches that sin is any thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God. Jesus tells His disciples that at the Last Judgment some will be condemned on account of what they failed to do: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me” (Mt. 25:45). Therefore, it is not only what we do, but what we fail to do that counts.

Man is by nature a social being. We are not isolated in this world; there are numerous daily interactions between people that bring up moral scenarios. Our Holy Father John Paul II explains this beautifully:

Since all the faithful are in solidarity in the Christian community, there can never be a sin which does not have an effect on the whole community…. If every person who seeks perfection lifts up the whole world as Blessed Elisabeth Leseur said, it is also true that every act which betrays the divine love weighs down the human condition and impoverishes the Church. (Pope John Paul II, general audience, April 15, 1992)

And in his apostolic exhortation on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia:

… one cannot deny the social nature of this Sacrament, in which the whole Church—militant, suffering and glorious in heaven—comes to the aid of the penitent and welcomes him again into her bosom, especially as it was the whole Church which had been offended and wounded by his sin. (31, emphasis added)

The Holy Father is a master of moral theology, having taught for many years at the University of Lublin in Poland. His monumental encyclical on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”) is the first papal encyclical devoted exclusively to this subject. In this document the Holy Father warns the faithful against cultural tendencies “in which freedom and law are set in opposition to each other and kept apart, and freedom is exalted almost to the point of idolatry—lead[ing] to a ‘creative’ understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teachings of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.” (VS #54).

There is a distinction between authentic freedom and license: authentic freedom being freedom that performs moral actions in conformity with the law of God, and license being abused freedom that performs moral actions that are evil, or contrary to God’s law. The idea that one can live in unlimited freedom with no reference to truth is an illusion; but it is an illusion that is the foundation for many Americans living lives of materialism and hedonism. James Collier recalls an appropriate dictum regarding personal freedom:

It is important for us to bear in mind Justice Holmes’ famous dictum that your right to swing your arm ends at my nose. Nobody’s freedom is unlimited; everybody’s rights are curtailed by the needs of others. (The Rise of Selfishness in America, 261)

American society has become one that insists on rights, but very little on duty (our obligations to others). But this is a logical consequence of the preoccupation with and the idolization of the self. Among the many slogans used to protect us from any infringement on our “good time”, the most commonly used phrase is “you are judging.” This phrase is typically a knee-jerk reaction to any sort of criticism, but it can implicitly deny several points of Church doctrine.

Accessory to another’s sin
We have responsibility for the sins of others when we cooperate in them, when we are accessory to these sins, and this is possible in nine ways: command, counsel, consent, praise, provocation, silence, assistance, defending the evil done, and not punishing the evil done. In other words, if someone is aware of an evil committed, there are nine ways that we can end up being guilty by our participation, or omission, regarding another’s sin. “Silence” in face of evil is common, when we choose “not to rock the boat” or “not get involved.” A reality check is needed here: sin is social as it impinges upon God’s honor and upon the rights of others, so not getting involved when it is clearly one’s responsibility does not get us off the hook. Christ calls us to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-14). Of course, prudence and charity must always be part of any charitable admonition.

Contrary to Scripture and Tradition
Furthermore, the Church includes among the spiritual works of mercy admonishing the sinner and instructing the ignorant. The perjorative “you are judging” would imply that there is no place whatsoever for a timely and charitable rebuke. This is not true. In fact, Scripture tells us:

“He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart, but reprove him openly, lest thou incur sin through him” (Leviticus 19:17).

Jesus--“If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).

“Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Important also to remember is that Scripture is frequently misinterpreted for selfish ends. Jesus’ words “judge not” are frequently taken out of context, and the following verses are conveniently omitted. Scott Peck writes:

The sentence “Judge not, that ye be not judged” is usually quoted out of context. Christ did not enjoin us to refrain from ever judging. What he went on to say in the next four verses is that we should judge ourselves before we judge others--not that we shouldn’t judge at all. “Thou hypocrite,” he said, “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to case out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:5) Recognizing the potential for evil in moral judgments, he instructed us not to always avoid making them but to purify ourselves before doing so. (People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, 256)

The truth of the matter is that the phrase “you are judging” is frequently used by people more interested in avoiding emotional upset than saving their souls.

Defense of the truth
The philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, who Pope Pius XII referred to as “20th Century Doctor of the Church,” explains that the spirit of Christian peace may sometimes call us to fight for the kingdom of God:

… mindful of the words of Our Lord, “I came not to send peace, but the sword” (Matt. 10:34), we should be warriors of Christ. The holy Church on earth is called ecclesia militaris (“the Church militant”). We cannot at the same time hunger and thirst after justice—an inherent basic attitude of the true Christian—and be at universal peace with the doers of evil and the unjust. The meek St. John the Evangelist goes so far as to advise the faithful against greeting heretics (2 John 10-11). (Transformation in Christ, 349-350)

For those who mistakenly assume that “peace at all costs,” a passive toleration of all objective wrongs, is in any way to be desired, von Hildebrand has these powerful words:

The unison we pretend to establish with evil—the attitude of coolly allowing a power of wrong to unfold—neither rests on actual love nor reflects a true harmony. Rather it is a product of weakness and involves a defilement with evil, a participation in the wrongdoer’s guilt. (Transformation in Christ, 350)

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, in a talk to the Institute on Religious Life on April 10, 1999, warned the faithful to be “careful that words like caution and prudence are not simply used as an excuse for inaction, inability, sloth, or cowardice which prevents us from sharing a truth with others.”

Frequently, an erroneous caution of “prudence” is another way that people evade a deserved rebuke. Bishop Bruskewitz goes on to say that:

to be indifferent to the truth, or to allow truth, especially doctrinal and moral truth, to be relegated by the general culture to a mere matter of opinion open to variance and contradiction by anyone, is not doing a service to our neighbor or fulfilling our obligations in Christian charity, deriving from Baptism and Confirmation. (Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, “The Limitations On Dialog and Toleration,” April 10, 1999).

St. Augustine tells us that we should “kill the error; love the one who errs.” Dietrich von Hildebrand in another book, Trojan Horse in the City of God, defends this statement of St. Augustine. He points out that some people are paralyzed by a false sense of peace, who believe that the struggle for truth is somehow uncharitable. He explains that these people

… when it comes to the active defense of the divinely revealed truth, decide that the “killing of the error” is something hard and uncharitable. They fail to understand that errors concerning divine revelation call for incomparably more for putting up a fight than do errors in the field of natural truth, because the consequences of the former errors are incomparably greater and even fatal. (Trojan Horse in the City of God, 202)

This article is particularly helpful since we live in a time of sacharrin spirituality and "feel-good" theology in which any correction or rebuke is dismissed and condemned as "uncharitable." People will go to great lengths to justify sin and falsehood.


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