I read in 1 Corinthians 10:29 the other morning, “It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?” (NLT) The Revised Standard version translates this verse as, “For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples?” And friends, that’s the question, isn’t it? I received a nasty, lengthy, name calling, and judgmental email recently, accusing me of being judgmental–the irony was not lost on my teens. You see, I could have taken that email demanding I close up shop here at The Littlest Way and quietly slipped into a constriction of thought, word, and deed…or I could choose my “freedom,” my “liberty” over her “limited thinking” or “scruples.” I’m writing this post so I obviously chose freedom.
But this post isn’t about me at all, it’s about all of us. Because we’ve all been told, by the well meaning Christian, what exactly is wrong with us. And more often than not, when they tell us what’s wrong with us, it’s not so we can grow in closer friendship with Jesus, but so we can stop bothering them. Do you see? It’s not about us when they call us to the mat…it’s about them.
You see, if this was truly about Christian correction, Fraternal Correction as it’s called; if a nasty email, a bold confrontation or a demeaning conversation in the shadows of life were about Fraternal Correction, it would follow Biblical principles, right thinking, human kindness, and it would be a duty of Christian love, not malice or spite.
Fraternal correction is not the outcome of irritation at another’s faults, or of offended pride or wounded vanity. Love is the only possible motive for fraternally correcting our neighbor.
–St. Jose Maria Escriva
Why do you correct him? Because you are upset that he has offended you? God forbid. If you do it out of self-love, your action is worthless. If it is love that moves you, you are acting excellently.
St. Josemaria Escriva gives clear instruction on how Fraternal Correction is to take place. The person giving the correction should above all discern in the presence of God:
1. Whether the correction is necessary.
If we feel the need to correct a brother or sister in Christ on a matter of such importance that we fear their soul or the souls of others may be at risk, we better be spending some serious time in front of God. Prayer and fasting also comes to mind here. Fraternal Correction, properly ordered from love, is a process and not a spur of the moment, heat of emotion, means of correction.
2. The most prudent way to give it (the best time, the appropriate words, etc.)
I can guarantee you God does not want someone coming at you, both barrels blazing, name calling–even if it is Biblical name calling such a “Pharisee.” All we have to do here is ask, “How would God handle this?” or in the popular phrase of the 90’s, “What would Jesus do?” And please, do not even hide behind the oft used excuse, “Well Jesus flipped the tables and ran people out of the Temple!” That only works when you’re Jesus. His anger was just and pure, not tainted by sin and selfishness.
3. Illumination from the Holy Spirit on the subject at hand, and pray for the person we are going to correct.
I wonder if more prayer were infused into the situation, would there be less need for Fraternal Correction? And if we sought the Holy Spirit, would the situation look entirely different? Something to consider.
4. We should examine our own conscience and unworthiness, especially on the fault that is the subject of the correction.
Do not even think of correcting someone until you’ve taken a hard look at yourself and for good measure, confessed. Really, this is for your protection in addition to just being the right thing to do. If you truly are doing the work of God by correcting someone, don’t leave yourself open to the tricks of the devil. It may begin with simple conversations starters such as, “Oh yeah, well remember the time you…” and escalate into full blown spiritual warfare keeping you at odds with yourself and the knowledge of God’s mercy.
5. We need to avoid anything that makes light of the situation, jokes or off handed remarks that might detract from the supernatural tone of the correction.
Saying, “Well duh!” in letter or person, negates any supernatural intention or tone contained in the correction. (That may or may not be a hypothetical example.) Fraternal Correction is a duty of the Christian to bring someone into reconciliation with God and His friendship. The word “Duh” has no place in that divine process.
6. And finally, as a rule of prudence, we should ask a competent person (spiritual director, priest, superior) for advice on whether the correction is necessary.
Please, let me just tell you, a competent person does not mean your Facebook followers, hairdresser (no offense) or your Instagram friends. Fraternal Correction is serious business with eternal consequences. Seek out wise and Godly counsel before you undertake your Christian duty.