Correcting the behavior of those gone astray is an essential part of Christian life, said Pope Benedict XVI in his Sunday Angelus address Sept. 4.
“This approach is called fraternal correction: it is not a reaction to injury suffered, but is moved by love for one’s brother,” said the Pope to pilgrims gathered at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
The Pope made his comments in the light of today’s Gospel in which Jesus suggests that “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”
The text of the Gospel “tells us that brotherly love also involves a sense of mutual responsibility,” said the Pope, “so if my brother sins against me, I must use love towards him and, first of all, speak to him personally, pointing out that what he has said or done is not good.”
The Pope quoted the 4-5th century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo, who said Christians cannot be indifferent to the “severe wound” a fellow believer may have inflicted upon themselves through sin.
However, St. Augustine also stressed that any subsequent fraternal correction has to be animated by love and not revenge insisting “you have to forget the hurt you have received, not the wound of your brother.”
If a fraternal correction is rebuffed, said the Pope, then Christians should follow the advice of Jesus - seek the witness of others and, if necessary, the sanction of the wider Church.
“All this indicates that there is a shared responsibility in the way of Christian life,” said Pope Benedict, “everyone, aware of their limitations and defects, is called to welcome fraternal correction and help others with this particular service.”
The Pope suggested this was a reminder of the communal nature of the Christian faith – as confirmed by the subsequent promise of Christ in today’s Gospel that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”
For while “personal prayer is certainly important, indeed essential,” said the Pope “the Lord assures his presence in the community” at prayer because it “reflects the reality of the Triune God, the perfect communion of love.”
Thus, concluded the Pope, through communal prayer and fraternal correction “which requires a lot of humility and simplicity of heart” we can journey together towards God as “a community truly united in Christ.”