Twenty-third Sunday in
September 4, 2011 Cycle A
by Rev. Luke Dundon
First Reading - Ezekiel 33:7-9
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading - Romans 13:8-10
Gospel - Matthew 18:15-20
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Is summer reading done? Hope so…
A good book to choose is a short story, and the devoted Catholic author Flannery O’Connor was a master at small tales, including one called, “The life you save may be your own.” A wandering stranger meets a family in the story, develops a relationship with them, but then makes some mistakes because he was thinking too much of himself and not enough of others…
Not that I would ever make such mistakes…allow me to give an example – I just finished lunch one summer afternoon. My sister then came down and made a snack, had her snack but then left the plates in the sink and the fixings on the counter…I noticed it, but didn’t mention anything to her. Mom came by, and suddenly I hear “Who left the kitchen a mess?” Trying to be helpful, diplomatic and honest, I quickly responded, “It wasn’t me, it was Maureen!” “Maureen, get down here…” Yes, now she’s going to get it! A victory smile, I won this round…but then I hear, “Luke, you get down here too and help your sister…” – stymied…I wanted to aggravate my sister’s mistake!
Then high school came. When peer pressure is a high priority. So, when I saw friends smoking underage one day, I didn’t say anything about it, because I was worried about what they would think of me – I “volunteered” information for my sister, but not with my friends…what gives? Thinking of myself, basically…I mean, why should their mistakes become my own?
I grew up a little bit by college, where life in the military taught that aggravating another’s mistake was selfish, as was ignoring a mistake you notice in another person…you personally approach shipmates who needed correction, because you were not just thinking of yourself, but also them, thus ensuring the safety of the ship…
So I finally started to get it upon entering seminary, when I learned that this “ship” was the whole Church throughout the world, that looking out for others involved much more than just my welfare.
Easy to say, hard to do, especially when you’re close with the others –such as when I had a good seminarian friend from another diocese. We accepted each other as brothers in Christ, so I didn’t feel like I had to impress him or worry about what he thought of me…but, I soon realized I needed to worry, for I noticed he had a drinking problem…a drinking problem that seem to get worse and worse with time. I knew it was not good for his own health, but as I thought about it, I realized that it wasn’t good for my well-being or anyone else’s in the Church. I had no option, I had to confront him. I promised to help him as much as I could to solve the problem. For his own good, and for the good of the entire Church. It wasn’t easy for either of us, but in the end it helped my friend to address a serious concern, which he is still working on today.
Could I have tried to “ignore” my friend’s problem? I mean, it’s not my business, right? St. Paul clarifies this dilemma for us today, we basically own one thing above all others things to all people – this one thing is love. It is not a gift we offer, but a debt that is owed, and it can manifest itself in many different forms, even and perhaps especially when we need to intervene, either in correction, or even in forgiveness.
We all know that intervention and forgiveness demands that the issue must be brought out into the light and confronted. This might take time, this might take effort, this might require a confrontation with others – not exactly things that are easy to do in modern culture.
However, Christ gives us step-by-step instruction for handling the problem. First, go the person one-on-one-it’s more relaxed, he or she feels less threatened, it makes sense! If that doesn’t work, do we give up? No, we come back with a couple of others, and if that doesn’t work, we turn to the Church. Why? Because those couple others, indeed the entire Church, are affected by that person’s offense. We need to lovingly confront the other and we have to offer forgiveness, for it helps not just ourselves, not just the other person who might have hurt us – it helps everyone in the entire Church.
It might seem a bit amazing, but it’s true – when one person does a good thing, the whole Church throughout the world benefits from it. When one person sins, the whole Church suffers. Our good and evil deeds affect each other, almost like organs in a body – for example – we hit our head – we may not have sore feet from hitting our head, but we still want to sit down and rest, because everything’s connected. All are members of the same body – as we are in Christ, in His Church.
Our school started last week, at Corpus Christi – the name is quite appropriate, it translates to “Body of Christ.” The teachers at Corpus Christi give instruction, they offer praise for the students’ good study and behavior, and they also correct or scold when needed, not to scare the students, but because they care about the students – and the rest of the Church, because every deed affects the entire family of Christ. We are one body in Him…
And so, if we have been hurt by others or notice in others things that need improvement, then we should not aggravate the problem, nor should we avoid the issue, but rather we should lovingly confront them, for we care for the entire Church. We pray these words in the Our Father, may He Forgive us our Trespasses as we forgive those who have hurt us, as we seek out those who need help. Be courageous and love everyone, our Lord said, forgive those who hurt you, you owe it to them, you are one body with them, you might help lead them to eternal life itself…at the very least, the life you save may be your own.