We pray today while our brothers and sisters are dealing with a series of natural calamities including Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. While there is too much water in some places, drought is devastating in North Dakota and parts of our own state. Forest fires of great magnitude are blazing out west, the smoke from which darkens our own sky. The list could go one around the world and in people’s lives. We pray for all in harm’s way and we pray for all those offering a helping hand that they may be safe.
Monday is the anniversary of the human inspired calamity in our country simply known as September 11. Ever since, our government has been trying to provide what is called homeland security. There is a tension about what is the proper balance between individual freedom and the need for government to monitor and to know in order to prevent other devastating attacks. There is a similar challenge for the Church and for each of us disciples of Christ. What is the right balance between using our God gifted free will to make personal decisions, even to sin, and the need for the Church which includes each of us to challenge behaviors that threaten the spiritual security, indeed the eternal health of ourselves and of others?
Our readings this week identify three elements that should be a part of our spiritual security program – prayer, love (respect) for one another, and fraternal correction. None is easy. When the Church speaks out on an issue of moral significance, she is often accused of imposing religion. That is not true. Rather she is simply acknowledging God the creator and His laws by showing love for our brothers and sisters and concern for their spiritual well-being. She is continuing the mission and ministry of Christ who called us to a very high standard and who suffered and died personally witnessing such tough love.
The Lord tells Ezekiel in the first reading, you have been appointed watchman over the House of Israel; warn the people. If you do not, even though you do not sin you will be held responsible. That was a heavy burden. Yet the consequences of sin can affect us all. Ezekiel felt called to continue that prophetic role despite rejection and persecution. And so must we as disciples of Christ.
St. Paul in the second reading reminds us that whatever we do we must do it for the right reasons and in the right way, out of love of God and for one another including those we have a hard time liking.
This teaching affirms the reality that there is conflict among us both in and outside the Church. And that the only effective resolution is reconciliation which usually must begin with the one who was wounded as hard as that is.
Inevitably there will be times when people say or do something or don’t say or do something that hurts us. More significantly sometimes people say or do something that threatens the well-being of others or divides family or nation. The attacks on the definition of marriage and the stability of family life, the cavalier disrespect for life out of selfish convenience and the use of violence and war for economic or political advantage are a few examples. What to do is often uncertain. Parents deal with this all the time. When should you step in for correction and when to allow children to grow and learn from their mistakes? We need to pray and allow the Spirit to help us discern what we should and should not do or say as parents and as Christian disciples.
To be able to do so we must also be open to fraternal correction ourselves. I have had people tell me how disappointed they were about both my personal and professional actions. Lost in my own world I did not appreciate the impact of my decisions or indecision on others. It was and is painful to hear critical words but because they were offered gently I could receive them, learn from them, and grow. How much more effective is honest dialogue than gossip, ridicule, or accusations made in anger. They enhance the hurt and add to the sin. As Pope Francis has said, they are the work of the devil to undermine the mission of Christ through His Church.
The good news is that once we know our faults we can move beyond them and set example for others by how we handle them. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that the more a person discovers himself the way he really is, the more he feels the need for God, and the more God manifests himself in such a soul.
Elsa Joseph was a concert violinist who was separated from her two little daughters when the family was sent to a Nazi concentration camp in World War II. Later she learned that her children had been gassed to death. Miraculously surviving such evil herself, she decided to offer concerts in the halls of Germany where she told her tragic story. She spoke not of vengeance but of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness. “If a Jewish mother can forgive what happened,” she told her audiences in Germany, and later in Northern Ireland and Israel, “then why can you not sink your differences and be reconciled with one another?” She was a voice of gentle correction that pricked consciences.
Pope John Paul I, the smiling pope who served only a month, wrote: “the fact that we may have had a stormy past should not frighten us. Storms that were bad in the past become good in the present if they encourage us to reform and to change. They become jewels if there are given to God.”
When we are honest with each other as Jesus calls us to be, and reach out in charitable reconciliation, the storms in our past or those of others need not hinder our spiritual journeys but rather strengthen them. But first we must know our faults and failings, and sometimes that requires the help of others – parents, friends, the Church – who have care for our spiritual security and care about our salvation which is more important than anything in this passing world.