When I was a seminarian, we had an evaluation system called “Fraternal Correction”. My classmates would write positive things about me and also things to be improved about me. And did the same for them. The idea was that we were able to correct each other so that we could improve and become better people. In my experience, ever since I entered the seminary, I always received a lot of things to improve, and there was always one thing that appeared regularly and that was “Elmer is noisy. He should try to be quiet sometimes”. And this comment persisted throughout almost my whole seminary life. But on the last year of being seminarians, on my last Fraternal Correction, I didn’t see or hear this comment. I concluded two things: Either, I had really improved and had become quiet or at least sensitive to the people around me or my classmates had just given up. I think it was the latter.
In the gospel for today, Jesus devised three ways to correct a brother or a sister in the community. First, pull them aside and talk to them in private. If that doesn’t work then, invite two or three people while you talk to him and if that still doesn’t work, then tell that to the church community. And if that still doesn’t work, then treat them like a non-person, or in our terms, excommunicate them.
For us Christians, it is hard to confront somebody and point out to them their mistakes so that they might become better persons because we might think of ourselves as not worthy to correct another given that we are also full of mistakes. However, if you go back to the gospel, Jesus never said that people who are sinless are the only ones who can correct the erring brothers and sisters in the community. For us, it seems so easy skip on the three steps and just give the cold shoulder to people who have offended us or we know that are erring. Jesus would want us to confront people face to face rather than talking behind their backs or making gossip out of it. But the first condition before undertaking such reminders to our erring brothers and sisters is that all of these things should be done out of love and concern. And we Christians definitely have the capability to do that. Because even if there are people who have been excommunicated by the Church, Jesus wants us to still reach out and try to win them back. Can we do that?
Isn’t it amazing how Jesus promised to all of us that whenever two or three people were gathered in his name, he would be there in their midst? This is a promise that Jesus made to everybody who pray in groups.
Have you ever wondered why it is important to pray as a community rather than being alone? One parishioner asked me once why do we have to go to Church if we can pray in our room anyway. Well I said that that’s the point of the gospel for today. It is not that praying alone is not important to Jesus. Remember, even Jesus went to a secluded place to be alone to pray to his Father in heaven. What Jesus is emphasising is that our prayers are more powerful if done in a community or done together than just us alone. Because for the church particularly the Catholic Church, we believe that all of us are part of the Mystical Body of Christ where Jesus is our head. All of us sinners must strive to be holy together and not just as individuals but as a whole church. I believe that Jesus came to our world not just to save any particular individual but also to save every one.
So we should remember that we all have a responsibility to one another. Jesus came to this world to save everyone and he is talking to us as one community. So let us stop thinking about “just me”. Let us think and be concerned with everybody. Remember, Jesus never told us to pray “My Father” but “Our Father”. So with this in mind, let us not see the person next to us in church as another stranger or another churchgoer, but rather look at him or her as your brother or sister and maybe, in doing that, we have just made one big step in making us a loving and united church community.