Correcting each other in a 'loving' way Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Sep. 11, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

I pray that you’ve all had a restful summer . . . as it seems, sadly, that we’re coming very quickly upon its last days! For myself, I’m maintaining hope that the winter is mild. I know that such a hope might be foolish -- but I’m a man of hope, nonetheless!

In considering the readings of this past Sunday, I think it’s very important that we reflect together, once again, on the theme of fraternal correction -- which is what the first (Ez 33:7-9) and the third (Mt 18:15-20) readings were about.

Fraternal correction is the way we correct one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We do so not in arrogance, nor in contempt, but with love. Fraternal correction in the Church is a service of love.

In our day and age, nobody wants to correct anybody (unless perhaps it’s anonymously, of someone we don’t know, and in an online forum -- which is certainly not charitable correction). To correct someone directly, someone whom we actually know, requires us to make claims about right and wrong, and about what is good and evil. Nobody wants to do that because, “you have your own truth and I have my own truth and we just peacefully coexist and it’s all just wonderful!” . . . except that it’s not. It’s a confused world.

In this confused world, it’s politically incorrect to correct anyone for anything! For instance, you even have to be careful, lest you say that ISIS is a group of extremist Islamic terrorists, who are absolutely wrong. Now, that’s obviously true, but some can’t say that. Because, after all, “we simply don’t see the world as ISIS does. They have their own truth, so we have to be polite when we deal with them.” . . . Just as I’m sure they are polite when they are beheading people.


Politically incorrect to correct

So it’s politically incorrect to correct, and that is the problem.

In the first reading of this past Sunday, the prophet Ezekiel is talking to the “leaders” in the faith. If he were speaking today, he would be talking, first, to the priests and bishops. And Ezekiel is saying to the priests and the bishops of today that if something out there is wrong, you had better correct them, because if you don’t correct them, you will be responsible for their misdeeds.

But in our world today it’s politically incorrect to correct anyone, so what happens with many priests and even bishops? They’re pressured, sometimes intimidated, toward speaking in a way which is more politically correct. And then, if something needs to be corrected or if a sin needs to be identified as such . . . well, maybe they don’t say things are all “OK,” but there is just silence. I must confess my own guilt on occasion in this regard.

Our first reading tells us that if you are silent when someone needs to be corrected, you are responsible for the harm they do! That is supposed to scare us bishops and priests. And it does scare me. I think about my responsibility every day, and so (as you may have heard) I am often politically incorrect -- because certain things have to be corrected.

Correction concerning a personal stance

Catholics in general have to correct one another with regards to many things. But one of the things people least like to address are those that are most personal to others. And so some of the things that are most unpopular for Catholic bishops, or priests, or any of us to address regard artificial contraception, and in-vitro fertilization, abortion, and same-sex unions, and euthanasia. (As regards to that last point, it needs to be said that many of our elderly are being “put to sleep.” There are different kinds of subtle euthanasia going on and nobody knows it because there is a conspiracy of silence.)

We all have to speak out about those things. And bishops and priests should galvanize us, encourage us, and inspire us to speak out. So, respectfully, we have to insist that our pastors, our priests, and our bishops speak out. And we have to give them the example of speaking out. Because, as the first reading says, evil must be corrected, and if someone doesn’t speak out, that someone is responsible for that evil.

Correction can be made in a loving way

Believe it or not, my second point is actually the tough one. The second reading from Sunday reminds us again of the centrality of love -- of loving respect. Those who are going to correct someone else -- including the priests and bishops -- must correct with love. It’s hard to do.

And sometimes when bishops and priests (or any of us) don’t correct, it’s because they don’t know how to do it and still come off lovingly. Sometimes too, people won’t let anyone correct them with love. No matter how someone corrects, the other will take it as hatred.

This is seen perhaps most frequently today with regard to same-sex unions. The minute you say anything that does not resemble complete affirmation of license in this regard, you are a “hater.” Even when you are trying to act as lovingly as possible, you are accused of hatred. And so some people, some priests and bishops, are silent, rather than be publicly accused of hatred. That makes some sense, and it’s understandable.

But, correction needs to be offered! It needs to be offered, and it has to be done with love. But what does that mean? Does offering correction with love mean doing it with a nice tone of voice? Will a nice tone of voice lead someone not to call us a hater? No.

On Sunday, I think Pope Francis spelled out brilliantly how we go about this. He said, you must make sure when you are correcting somebody, you are also saying, “I too am a sinner; I don’t have everything perfectly in order myself. I am a sinner . . . and you are a sinner.” And then we say secondly, “Thank God that He has granted me mercy!” And then we also say, “Thank God that He will grant you mercy, if you turn away from evil!”

We offer correction by saying, I am a sinner, I am humbled, and God is merciful. You show them how it applies to you and you say, if it applies to me and I need it because I am a sinner, it also applies to you.

Here we encounter a big “if.” If people are reasonable, they will take that proclamation as one of love, and they will truly consider it. We know, however, that in today’s highly divided politically charged world, we can’t count on someone’s being reasonable. And besides, it’s always difficult to be confronted with our own failings. Nevertheless, if we do love our brothers and sisters, we have to correct. We have to correct clearly. We have to correct with great conviction. There should be no doubt about that. And it applies to all of us.

But at the same time as we correct, we have to realize and to let the other person realize that we know we are sinners. We have to make clear, “Before God, I am a sinner as you are. I just sin in different ways maybe, but I am a sinner and I need mercy. Thank God He is rich in mercy!” And then you say, “You need mercy too. Thank God He is as rich in mercy toward you as He is toward me!”

Pope Francis thinks that’s the secret to correcting people with love, and I am always happy when I agree wholeheartedly with the Pope!

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Many blessings upon you, and all your brothers and sisters in Christ. Praised be Jesus Christ!