St. Patrick, Walkerton

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have you ever been accused of intolerance? Nowadays, we sometimes hear accusations against the Catholic Church of being intolerant. Of course, tolerance is usually a good thing. We should tolerate other people whom we disagree with. This is a matter of respect for the person. We should tolerate those with whom we disagree. But Christian tolerance should never cross the line into condoning immorality and evil. I think of the quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He said: “There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance … Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.”

Similarly, the famous Dominican scholar, Father Reginald Garrigou­Lagrange, wrote: “The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”

I mention this theme of tolerance and intolerance in light of today’s Gospel about fraternal correction. More important than tolerance for us as disciples of Jesus is love. Tolerance is an inadequate category for Christians. Yes, we are to be tolerant of those with other beliefs, but love requires more. Sometimes it entails correction.

Our Lord teaches us how to deal with these moments of correction. He says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Sometimes we’ll avoid doing this because we don’t want a confrontation or argument. Instead, we might talk about the faults of others to everyone but them. This can become the sin of slander, hurting another’s reputation. Or sometimes we go over the head of someone to complain about them. I get letters sometimes from people complaining about a priest or someone else, and when I ask the person about it, I find out they never went to the one they are complaining about. Jesus says we should go to the other person one-on-one. It can be a moment for healing and reconciliation. But what if this doesn’t work? Jesus goes on to step #2: “If he does not listen, take one or two along with you.” This can help to bring a change, enlisting a few others to help the person who has strayed. I remember doing this once in confronting a man who was committing adultery. He didn’t stop when I confronted him about it one-on-one. But when I brought a few of his friends to confront him, it really impacted him and he stopped his sinful behavior. By the way, I wasn’t tolerant about this man’s behavior! I was intolerant because I cared for his soul and I cared about his wife and children!

If these attempts at correction don’t work, then what? Jesus says, if the person still refuses to listen, then tell the church. “If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This may seem harsh. It may seem harsh when the Church doesn’t allow someone, for example, to receive Holy Communion. Or when the Church imposes a penalty like excommunication. But even this is medicinal. It is done with the hope that such a drastic action will bring repentance. It is done for the sake of the person’s salvation. It’s really an act of mercy, not condemnation.

When we think about today’s Gospel, about correcting others, we should also think about our own need for correction and being open ourselves to correction. Perhaps we’re the ones who need correction. There are a few examples I recently read in a column about today’s Gospel (OSV, Tim O’Malley). The author wrote:

“Perhaps I’m the one who needs to be confronted about the way that I spend my money.”

“Perhaps I’m the one who needs to be told about my lack of discipline in prayer.”

“Perhaps a fellow disciple must speak to me about my abuse of alcohol or the delight I take in gossip.”

“Perhaps a fellow disciple needs to remind me to care for all those on the margins rather than to remain committed to the power politics of the Republicans or the Democrats.”