23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Nobody likes to be corrected. It tweaks our ego, and it is often badly done, or consists of someone making snide comments or berating us because we’ve done something they don’t like. Fraternal correction can also sting, but it has the good of the corrected person in mind. Today’s readings remind us that correction, when done fraternally, it a great act of charity that we should appreciate and practice for the good of others.

In today’s First Reading the Lord reminds Ezekiel, and us, that it is our moral responsibility to warn a brother or sister that they are doing something evil. It’s our duty to inform people of the consequences of their evil actions. When the Lord first asked Cain about the murder of Abel, he phrased it in a way that tried to help Cain realize he was responsible for his brother: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain responded, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). We are all our brother’s keeper. We live in a world that teaches us to mind our own business, but that doesn’t include someone who is drowning, at the mercy of criminals, or committing a crime themselves. Our society is full of initiatives to help others turn from evil: from programs for “at risk” youth to drug rehab to penitentiaries, but none of them has the same power as a brother or sister who genuinely cares and takes an interest in someone on the wrong path. The Lord today is telling Ezekiel today, and us, to inform consciences out of charity, not to force them onto the right path. If we love someone we cannot leave them in ignorance about the evil they’re doing.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that every just law is built on love, and if we focus on loving and teaching others to love everything else will fall into place. Society has many laws and measures today that are built on justice, but not always enforced with love. Deeper than the labels of “suspect,” “victim,” “criminal,” there is only one label that matters: “brother.” Paul simply repeats what Our Lord himself answered when the scribe asked him what was the greatest commandment regarding each other: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mark 12:31). Fraternal correction is not returning evil for evil, no matter what our brother has done.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that before entering into litigation with someone who has wronged us we should try simple fraternal correction. Our society today tends to try and resolve disputes through rules and regulations, lawyers and courts, fines and penalties. We often try from the beginning to get justice from someone through someone else, when we know that nobody reacts well to being pressured into doing something. We should always try to start by settling a dispute fraternally: one on one, in frank but charitable dialogue.

We should not only seek our own good, but the good of the person who has afflicted us, and we won’t completely understand their motives if we don’t speak to them. There are many small disagreements that can be resolved this way, and to everyone’s satisfaction. If an attempt at fraternal correction fails it is not a lack of charity to bring witnesses in and, if necessary the Church (authorities), in order to help both parties see the truth and adhere to it. Justice is sought, but the good of both parties as well. If the guilty party does not listen to all the facts and to an authoritative judgment, then the guilty party has been shown to not be in communion with those he or she has afflicted and that has to be acknowledged, sometimes publicly. When the Church formally declares someone to be excommunicated or under interdict it is taking this step for the good of the unrepentant party.

Today’s readings are about doing fraternal correction, but we need to learn to accept correction as well. If someone takes an interest enough in you to point out something that you might need to work on, you should be grateful. If the person is not exactly fraternal about it, and it is a valid point, you should be grateful. As an added bonus, it well help you to be more fraternal in correcting others.

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7–9; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; Romans 13:8–10 Matthew 18:15–20.


22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s Gospel Peter balks at the thought that Christ must deny himself and take up his cross. Last week Our Lord was praising Peter’s faith; this week he is condemning his worldly outlook.

In today’s First Reading Jeremiah laments all the ridicule and suffering he endures for the Lord’s cause. Jeremiah was called to be the Lord’s prophet in a time when people preferred their own counsel and wished for an easy solution to their problems that didn’t involve faith or sacrifice. He is dejected because his mission is as hard as he imagined, but he let the Lord talk him into it anyway. When facing the hardship of decisions made, we often ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Jeremiah is having one of those moments. Despite difficulty and dejection he burns inside to carry on, because he knows he is heralding the truth, something no one can turn their back on. He knows his message will save his people.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that we are called to a spiritual worship that implies sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed himself on the Cross as an act of perfect worship for our sins. The martyrs answered the call to sacrifice their very lives for the cause of Christ. The confessors suffered physically for the cause of his name. By shouldering our crosses we offer spiritual sacrifice to Our Lord and place our worship alongside Our Lord’s perfect sacramental worship each time we celebrate the Eucharist. We can never forget that now we offer in a non bloody manner at each Mass what he offered in a bloody manner on Calvary. The world tries to turn our minds away from the Cross, but the cross is the true path to life and fulfillment. When we accept and shoulder the crosses in our life it renews our attitude toward the fleeting things of this world and what is truly important.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that the cross is a part of our life whether we want it or not, and what matters is how we face it and why we face it. He also encourages us to practice self-detachment and to remember that everything we have comes from God. No matter how often we try to accumulate things and ensure comfort, something prevents it from happening. Some people are wealthy, or healthy, or in charge of their lives, yet they feel something is missing. All things that God has created only serve us to the degree that they help us and others draw closer to God. Sometimes we lose sight of that: we want a life that does not involved self-denial and the Cross, a life where we own everything we could possibly want, not just everything we need. We seek financial security, comfort, and control, and we convince ourselves that we’ll be satisfied with having more money, more comfort, more control.

The things of this world are fleeting and we’ve all experienced that after one bill comes another, that we can’t always enjoy the health or comfort we crave, no matter how hard we try, and that there are many things that will always be beyond our control. When we get obsessed about achieving the impossible in this world–unlimited wealth (the latest and greatest and a big nest egg), complete comfort (no aches and pains, nothing unpleasant), and total control (everything arranged to our satisfaction)–those things that God created for our good become obstacles to drawing closer to him, and throw up obstacles for others as well.

Our Lord reminds us today that we can have the whole world, but not possess what is truly important: an enduring and fulfilled life. That enduring and fulfilled life doesn’t exist in this world, yet this world is the path to it. It depends on how we live in this world. Our Lord teaches us today that the only way to achieve what we truly desire is to take up our cross for the sake of a higher cause: his cause. Our Lord was ravaged on the cross, but not defeated, and from that Tree of Life an enduring and fulfilling life is made possible, if we take up his cause and imitate him. The alternative is a ravaged world: the more we seek fleeting things, the more we flee from our crosses, the more we’ll suffer lasting misery, because if we put our stock only in the things of this world, they will, sooner or later, pass away.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us see our crosses not as burdens, but as opportunities to help construct a better world in his name. Through our crosses, in his service, we can achieve a better life for ourselves and for others. Let’s take up our cross and take up the cause of Christ.

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7–9; Psalm 63:2–6, 8–9; Romans 12:1–2; Matthew 16:21–27.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

In today’s parable Our Lord teaches us to unearth our talents and make at least a minimal effort to put them to good use. It’s true that in the parable the servants receive their talents and one decides to bury them, but in real life Our Lord has created us with many talents that we can employ if we discover them. In the Last Supper he reminded his disciples that they were to bear fruit as the best way of glorifying the Father (see John 15). How do we give the Lord a return on his investment in us?

We mustn’t let fear keep us from taking risks in Our Lord’s service. As the unfortunate servant found out today, he was so rattled about what he thought were his master’s expectations that he made the wrong move. He was so foolish that the simple steps he could have taken were far from his thoughts. Who knows how things would have turned out if he had simply asked his master for suggestions.

We too must ask the Lord to help us unearth our talents and teach us the best way to use them. As he reminds us today, everyone has talents and is expected to use them. Let’s get to work. Even a little effort goes a long way in Our Lord’s service.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:9–11; Psalm 98:1, 7–9; Matthew 25:14–30. See also 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II.