domenica 10 settembre 2017

«Corripe eum»

It is already several weeks that we are reading the fourth part of Matthew’s gospel, which is about the Church as first-fruits of the kingdom of heaven. Up to now we have read passages from its narrative section: the miracle of the loaves; Jesus walking on the water; the meeting with the Canaanite woman; Peter’s profession of faith and his pre-eminence; the first prediction of the passion. As usual, after the narrative section, we find a discourse—in this case, the “discourse on the Church.”

This discourse confirms what we said two weeks ago, when speaking about the conferral of primacy on Peter: Jesus intended to found the Church. He also knew that the Church would not be made of saints, but of sinners. That is why he provided a procedure to follow in case a brother should sin. We call this procedure “fraternal correction.” If we see a brother or a sister make a mistake, we have to reprimand them, not in order to criticize them, but to correct them. The Catechism teaches us that “admonish sinners” is one of the spiritual works of mercy, that is to say, an act of charity: if we really love our brothers and sisters, we do not want their spiritual ruin, and so we have to help them to correct their faults.

In order for fraternal correction to be sincere—and not a way to humiliate others—we have to follow a specific procedure in three or four stages. First, private correction: “Go and tell him his fault (corripe eum) between you and him alone.” This first step is the proof that we are not moved by other reasons than the good of our brother and are ready even to suffer a possible violent reaction from him. Second, further correction before witnesses: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you.” Usually, these witnesses should be authoritative persons, so that, if our brother does not listen to us because of our low prestige, he may heed more eminent people. Third stage, correction of the church: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.” When one becomes obstinate in his mistake, it is right to denounce him before the congregation, both to admonish him with the authority of the community, and to warn others not to make the same mistake. In case of total obstinacy, there is a final step: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector,” that is to say, let him be expelled from the church. This is what we usually mean with the term excommunication, the most severe punishment in the Church: a brother unwilling to correct himself is driven out of the Church, not to damn him for eternity—which does not depend on us—but just to admit our inability to correct him and entrust him to the justice and mercy of God. At that point, we can consider ourselves free from any responsibility: what was in our power to do, we did; we leave to God what we were not able to do.

Jesus assures his disciples of his assistance in this delicate process: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” If you remember, it is the “power of binding and loosing,” that Jesus had already entrusted to Peter; now he is giving it also to the other apostles (unlike the “power of the keys,” which was entrusted to Peter alone): the apostles—and their successors—act on behalf of Christ; what they decide is ratified by him. Jesus, at the end of today’s gospel, confirms his continuous presence in the Church: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Finally, Jesus assures us of the efficacy of common prayer: “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Since Jesus is always with us, if we agree on what to ask, it is as if Jesus himself is praying. And to his Son God cannot say no.