A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 41)
23nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – September 4, 2005
“The Duty of Christian Correction”
Ez 33:7-9 // Rom 13:8-10 // Mt 18:15-20
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
I immensely enjoyed reading Margot Fonteyn’s self-revelatory autobiography, written with the fluency that distinguishes her dancing. The famous English ballerina narrates an incident in which she experienced a sisterly correction from her best friend, Pamela May (cf. MARGOT FONTEYN: Her Own Best Selling Autobiography, London: Wyndham Publications Ltd., 1976, p. 98-99).
Pamela May was away from the ballet for quite a while having a baby. June Brae, the other member of our ‘triptych’, had met David Breeden at Cambridge at the same time that I met Tito and Pamela met Painton. June and David married early in the war, and their daughter was born soon after Pamela’s son. I seemed to be the odd girl out. Alone in No. 1 dressing room, without my closest friends, I developed a star complex, and for a time I was really impossible, imagining that I was different from, and superior to, those around me. Then Pamela came to see us. It was soon after she had been widowed. Completely broken up by her loss, and living as she did facing up to stark reality, she was in no mood to put up with my fanciful airs. She told me outright that I had become a bore. Thinking it over, I decided that I far preferred the company of my friends to the isolated pinnacle implied by the title Prima Ballerina Assoluta, which I had been trying to reach, so I climbed down. As a matter of fact, it had been partly the fault of what I call false friends – those who, with the best will, and believing themselves your warmest admirers, unwittingly destroy you with such talk as: “People didn’t realize how great you are”; “You are the greatest ballerina alive; people should fall back in awe when you leave the stage door”; “You should be treated like a queen.” All of which is, of course, rubbish.
Today’s Gospel proclamation (Mt 18:15-20) belongs to “The Sermon on the Church” (Mt 18:1-35), a distinct literary unit wherein the evangelist Matthew gathers Jesus’ teachings directly concerned with the life of the disciples in Christian communities. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, delineate the context of this Sunday’s reading, which underlines the duty of Christian correction: “The community for which Matthew collected and presented the Lord’s teachings was already a motley group. There were brothers and sisters who did not behave in an evangelical manner toward the little ones. There were leaders concerned more with honors than service. There were even disciples who lived in sin, publicly and scandalously. What to do about them? What should be the means by which they could be helped to become aware of their disorderly ways and be converted? Certainly there was no question to prematurely separate the weeds from the good grain (Mt 13:24-30). But in some cases, it became necessary to expel from the community brothers and sisters whose conduct could not be tolerated. These questions are still with us. The Gospel of Matthew shows us how to address them. The concrete modalities of the procedure outlined in Matthew cannot be followed to the letter, but we must remember their spirit and perspective. The sins of brothers and sisters cannot leave their kin and other members of the community indifferent. Charity and the spiritual welfare of others demand that we exert ourselves to bring back onto the right path whoever has wandered off. The parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18:10-14) immediately precedes Jesus’ words on charitable correction. The art of reprimand is certainly among the most difficult and delicate; yet this is no reason for us to evade our duty.”
The pastoral writer, Harold Buetow looks deeply into the various steps of Christian correction presented in today’s Gospel reading: “The first step of the progression is forthrightly to go to the offender and point out his or her fault one-on-one between just the two of you. This should be done in a way that won’t humiliate the offending person – indeed, it should make him realize that, as St. John Chrysostom wrote, the wounds of friends are more to be relied upon than the voluntary kisses of enemies. Always remember, though, that advice is sometimes transmitted more successfully through a joke than through grave teaching. If the first step doesn’t work, the second step is to bring one or two others along with you (v. 16) – not for the purpose of proving the other person wrong, but to help in the process of reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, you proceed to the third step, which is to refer it to the local community of faith, the Church (v. 17). This is far better than going to the civil courts, because courts settle nothing concerning personal relationships and can, instead, cause other complications. The whole process should be motivated by a spirit of forgiveness. If none of these steps work, Jesus advises his Jewish audience to treat the offender as they would a Gentile or a Roman tax collector. Surprisingly, for him that means continuing friendship. The Gospels call Jesus a friend of sinners and tax collectors, and Jesus reconciled many sinners with the heavenly Father: Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Zaccheus, the woman taken in adultery, and others … All else failing, there is always common prayer. United prayer is more powerful, sensible, and effective than resentment in our responsibility toward one another. Such prayer must never be selfish, but must be primarily for the good of fellowship, remembering that where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name (v. 20), he’s in their midst. Jesus’ two or three is as small a number as one can have to make a community.”
In light of Jesus’ compassionate ministry, Gentiles or tax collectors are not excluded from the pastoral solicitude and prayer of the Church. The pastoral power of the keys given in a special way to Peter (Mt 16:19) is shared with the entire Church in view of fraternal healing and reconciliation.
The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, conclude: “The perspective of evangelical discipline remains that of forgiveness. A community is Christian in the measure in which all know and want themselves to be responsible for the good of each member. This concern about others’ salvation must be at the heart of every cell of the Church, especially the heart of the family. This is why charitable correction is a duty that, although, difficult, devolves on everyone.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. What is my attitude to the erring members of the Christian community? Do we dedicate ourselves to the ministry of Christian correction?
B. Do we believe that only God’s grace can change hearts and effect conversion? Do we allow ourselves to be instruments of grace for others?
C. Is the concern about others’ salvation at the heart of every member and every cell of our Christian community? Are we a reconciled and a reconciling community? Are we a community of forgiveness based on love?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Cf. Commission Francophone Cistercienne, Tropaires des dimanches, 109, Fiche de chant U LH 68)
Leader: When one human being wins another,
heaven rises on earth.
When two or three agree to implore the Father,
heaven surrounds them and unfolds at their bidding.
Assembly: Earth and heaven are reconciled.
Jesus is in our midst.
Leader: Love and truth meet;
glory will dwell on our earth.
Truth will sprout from the earth
and justice will learn from heaven.
God himself offers happiness
and our earth will give its fruit.
Assembly: Earth and heaven are reconciled.
Jesus is in our midst.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault …” (Mt 18:15)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray for the erring members of the community and for the grace needed by the Church to carry out its task of Christian correction. In a most humble and charitable way, exercise the duty of fraternal correction and forgiveness on behalf of an erring member of your family and community. Visit a correctional institute and see how you could minister to the needs of its inmates.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may understand and appreciate more deeply the duty and the meaning of Christian correction and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 41): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323