Given at St. Mary Catholic Church, Trenton, IL
September 3 & 4, 2011
Every one, at one time or another, experiences criticism! Everyone has the experience of being criticized at one time or another. Children are told by their parents that the child is doing some task wrong way. That’s not how you tie your shoe! You know better than to take a chance like that behind the wheel of the car! Employees get called in by the boss for a performance review about how the employee does every task wrong.
And the experience of criticism is usually a negative experience, an encounter that leaves the criticized person feeling hurt, because the person’s self-esteem is attacked by aggressive words. Even if the intent of the parent or boss is to improve performance or help the child, criticism usually comes off as a superior belittling an underling, someone with less authority.
There is another kind of criticism. This other kind of criticism is usually called something like fraternal correction. Or another type of criticism is akin to the relationship of a coach and an athlete. When a coach sees an athlete have an incorrect technique the coach points out the flaw and most often the athlete receives the advice (which is in fact a kind of criticism) as helpful so that the athlete can improve his or her performance. There is a kind of positive method of correction of another’s actions that is done with mutual respect. The athlete respects the wisdom of the coach. The coach respects the talent of the athlete, sincerely wanting to improve performance for the sake of the athlete, not to show what a great coach he is. Such respectful correction of behavior is an act of love in a sense. I give you something of myself, my knowledge, my time, so that you’ll be better. Ideally, that’s what parents do for children. Ideally this positive approach to correcting harmful behavior is what the disciples of Jesus are about in carrying out Christ’s mission of saving the world from the influence of death.
What did Christ say “I have come not to condemn the world, but to save it!”
So often, though, the Church, that community of disciples whom Jesus has promised to remain with, so often the Church is seen as the nagging negative parent or domineering boss telling people what they are doing wrong just to show who’s in charge or whose got the power. The Church, to some, is that institution that is trying to deny people their personal rights and take all the fun out of life.
Don’t do that unless you’re married! Don’t be pro-choice. Don’t Don’t Don’t!
People see the church as the institutional parent limiting their freedoms and always criticizing people for being human. The church is often perceived as a bunch of negative critics of society.
When Jesus gives his instructions about how to correct a brother or sister (it’s actually Matthew trying to lay out the discipline or organizational order of the Christian Community) he’s not being this kind of negative, finger wagging super parent. He’s offering a way to his disciples to be a community of mentors. The Gospel writer is instructing the Church how to be coaches to each other. And by extension, how to coach the world toward better performance of humanity’s relationship with each other that will lead humanity to a relationship that will never end with the one who saves humanity from death. Matthew, the gospel writer, has Jesus saying that his mind, his heart, Jesus’ life lives on in the community of the church; the church who is called “Body of Christ,” whose members in mutual loving respect help each other on the journey of conversion. Remember…
What was Jesus’ mission? What did he come to accomplish? “I have not come to condemn humanity, but to give it life!” He does that through the church made of members who model for humanity the right order of human relationships.
Therefore it is our obligation as church to speak out when we see our brothers and sisters (inside and outside of the community of the church) to point out in a way respectful of human freedom that their actions are against life, or that their actions are not respectful of human dignity. We, the church, say what we say and point out actions that lead to the destruction of human relationships because we desire everyone have life and life to the fullest, like Jesus who is present to the world through us, the church. We’re coaching humanity toward winning the victory of a lifetime! Here, change this behavior and you’ll live happily now and forever instead of finding yourself unhappy and eventually cut off from the life of heaven. We, the church must speak out, pointing out how people’s selfish behavior doesn’t help them. We must speak out of love for humanity, because Christ speaks through us. We do not speak about issues of war or sexuality or justice for immigrants because we get a perverse kick out of criticizing other people and thinking we’re better than everyone else. We speak because we must give voice to Jesus love for humanity and invite that humanity to choose life.
Of course, not everyone is going to welcome our fraternal criticism. Some people will continue to choose to see the church as being out of touch with the times. Some people will see us as negative and restrictive in our rules. It’s a shame. But at least we have spoken out. We can not be responsible for other people’s decisions to ignore what’s good for them, but we as members of the Body of Christ must not abdicate our responsibility to be the voice of Jesus, speaking a message of concern for the fate of every human being. It’s a matter of life and death for each of us; It’s a matter of the Church being true to itself.
We might paraphrase Jesus’ words a bit. God so loved humanity he gave it the Church to help men and women find the way to life. God so loved the members of the church that he gave us each other, so that we might assist one another stay on the way and arrive at salvation.
© September 4, 2011, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher