Public Wants or Public Needs?
Playwrights for stage, screen and television can’t people their dramas with saints only. Human beings are sinners as well as saints or a mixture of both. Trouble is the professional theater is a business as well as an art; so when show business is slow, producers are always tempted to “give the public what it wants”: to glamorize sin. This, of course, is irresponsible. It is cashing in on the weaknesses of one’s neighbor.
Some theatrical people go along with such trends, but the really great actors and actresses will usually refuse. They have too much respect for their art to allow it to become an agent of human corruption. Take, for instance, one of America’s theatrical “greats,” our original “Peter Pan” – Maude Adams (1872-1953). Here is what she said: “If a play and the acting call out unhealthy emotions and lead us to believe they are normal or customary, the theater serves no good purpose.”
Aristotle, the famous philosopher of ancient Greece, who wrote a whole book on the aims of drama, would have agreed. So does today’s second reading: “…Love never does any wrong to the neighbor”. (Romans, 13:10)
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q492: The gospel tells us (Matthew 18:15) to set your brother straight when he sins against you. Why isn’t it better just to keep quiet and “absorb” the wrong?
St. Augustine wrote a homily on 1 John 4 (see http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/170207.htm), in which he puts a choice before you: would you rather be treated very affectionately by someone, or would you rather be severely punished by your father? Of course, I propose that to you as a “trick question” because there is one element missing you have not been told about: which of the two actions is done out of true charity? Augustine says if the father is offering you correction so that you will not repeat a serious and deadly mistake, it is done out of deep love for you. But the other action, being “treated very affectionately” – suppose that caress was coming from a twisted pedophile? All of a sudden, the right choice for you to make becomes very clear!
Your private action in informing your brother about an injury or distress that he has caused you stems partly from a good sense of justice. We want things put right, in proper order. But there is a deeper element at work, and that is concern for your brother’s soul: if he does not make amends and change his behavior, then his eternal life could be at stake. That situation almost demands that you offer private fraternal correction to your brother.
St. Paul said it best (2nd reading: Romans 13:8-10): our only obligation is to love. First, we love our self-sacrificing Creator God; and then we love every other human being unconditionally, just like Jesus taught us. If charity is at the root of all of our actions, we know that our actions conform to the will of God.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! It is no accident that Jesus called unconditional love for God and for man the two greatest commandments, and the basis for all good human actions (CCC #2055). So before “correcting” someone, do a quick internal check: is charity at the root of the words you plan to speak? Remember: the Eucharist strengthens our charity, and this living charity wipes away venial sins (CCC #1394).
Am I My Brothers’ Keeper?
Today’s readings remind me of those words from Genesis. That’s the way many of us react when we see someone going astray. We know that trying to tell people that they are out of line is difficult and full of risk. Their response is likely to be unpleasant. Ezekiel reminds us today of the prophet’s obligation to correct the wicked. Jesus also tells us that we have a responsibility for our neighbor’s spiritual well being as much as for the material.
On the other hand, the words of our Lord and of St. Paul remind us of how we should exercise this prophetic responsibility — with great love. We are not called to prosecute the sinner, but to work for reconciliation and change of heart. We are not out to win an argument to prove someone wrong. What we say must make sense to them and that demands that we appreciate where they are coming from. In the end though, as Jesus makes clear, there are limits; there are boundaries across which there is no community.
Lord Jesus, help us to respond to the call to speak your word. Help us to speak with love rather than in judgment. Help us to accept correction as well as to give it. Overcome our stubbornness; cure our blindness; soften our prejudices, so that together we may share the joy of your life forevermore.