"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."
Human coexistence is intertwined with differences of opinion, conflicts and reciprocal injustices, due to the fact that we have different temperaments, points of view and tastes. The Gospel also has something to say to us about this most common and daily aspect of life. Jesus presents the case of someone who has done something that is really wrong in itself: "If your brother sins against you ..."
He does not refer only to a wrong committed against us. In this latter case, it is almost impossible to know if what motivates us is zeal for the truth or, instead, wounded self-love. In any case, the instance would be more one of self-defense than fraternal correction.
Why does Jesus say "go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone?" First of all, out of respect for our brother's good name, for his dignity.
He says: "you and him alone," to give the person the possibility to defend himself and to explain his actions in full freedom.
Many times, what is from an outside perspective seems to be a fault, is not in the intentions of the one who commits it. An honest explanation dissipates many misunderstandings. But this is not possible when the problem is made known to everyone.
According to the Gospel, what is the ultimate reason why it is necessary to practice fraternal correction? It most certainly is not pride, to show others their errors in order to highlight our superiority. Nor to discharge one's conscience by being able to say: "I told you so. I warned you. Too bad for you, if you paid no attention to me."
No, the objective is to win over one's brother. That is, to seek the genuine good of the other, so that he can improve and not meet with disagreeable consequences.
If it is a question of a moral fault, one does so that he will not compromise his spiritual journey and eternal salvation. The good result of the correction does not always depend on us (despite our good intentions, the other might not accept it, and might become more rigid); on the contrary, the good result that does depend always and exclusively on us is when it comes to accepting a correction.
There is both active and passive correction. Not only does the duty to correct exist, but also the duty to allow oneself to be corrected. And here is where one sees if one is sufficiently mature to correct others.
Whoever wants to correct someone must be disposed to be corrected. When you see that a person receives a correction and you hear him answer simply: "You are right, thank you for telling me!" you are before a person of courage.
Christ's teaching on fraternal correction should always be read together with what he said on another occasion: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Luke 41-42).
In some cases, it isn't easy to know if it is better to correct or to let things go, to speak or to be silent. For this reason, it is important to keep in mind the golden rule, valid for all cases, which the Apostle Paul offers in this Sunday's second reading (Romans 13:8-10): "Owe no one anything, except to love one another. ... Love does no wrong to a neighbor."
It is necessary to be sure, above all, that in one's heart there is the disposition to accept the person. Then, all that is decided, whether to correct or to be silent, will be alright, as love "does no wrong to anyone."
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap.
[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana. Translation by ZENIT]