MOST CATHOLICS are aware of our Christian duty to help the needy. In fact, we have a whole list of seven types of needs that we are expected to respond to, like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. We call them the “corporal works of mercy.”
But I wonder how many Catholics know, that in addition to the seven corporal works, we also have what we call the “spiritual works of mercy,” and there are also seven of them: Counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the wayward, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and the dead.
Today’s Gospel is about the third spiritual work of mercy: “admonish the wayward.” It is actually easier to help those in need of material things; it is more difficult to help those in need of guidance or correction or admonition especially when they are already going wayward or heading towards self-destruction.
In Tagalog, there seems to be a very thin line between PAKIKIALAM and PAGMAMALASAKIT. One is negative, the other is positive. But even what you presume to be positive can be taken negatively, as in: “Why are you meddling in someone’s personal life or private affairs? Why don’t you just leave them to do as they please with their lives? After all they are answerable to God for their own actions.”
Yes, they are accountable, but you also are answerable to God if you were fully aware of it and you did absolutely nothing about it. Don’t forget, the Gospel is presuming a relationship. It does not say, “If your fellow human being does something wrong…” Rather, it says, “If your brother or sister does something wrong…” The person concerned is not a stranger to you. He’s a brother or she’s a a sister, not just by blood, but by faith. You have a relationship.
The Catholic Church also teaches us to include in our examination of conscience not just the wrong that we should not have done which we may have committed, but also the good that we should have done but which we omitted. They are what we call the SINS OF OMISSION. If you think the concept is original to Catholic tradition, check out our first reading—as early as 2,650 years ago we already hear about it in the prophet Ezekiel. The prophet says, “if you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” Meaning, we are also as accountable to God if we do not do anything to save a wayward brother or a sister from perishing.
This is what Paul is driving at when he says in our second reading, “Owe nothing to one another except LOVE.” Meaning, the common attitude that says, “I owe nothing because I have not done anything wrong.” This is the attitude that is reinforced by commandments that are formulated negatively, which emphasize only the wrong that we should NOT DO.
Remember even the Golden Rule which says DO NOT DO UNTO OTHERS WHAT YOU DO NOT WANT OTHERS TO DO UNTO YOU has been reformulated positively by Jesus: DO UNTO OTHERS… That is why when he gave LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOR as summary of the commandments. This is what St. Paul emphasizes in the second reading, “The one who loves has fulfilled the law.”
Only love can enable us to see in every other person a brother, as sister, or a friend. It is the bond that alone manifests the presence of the same Holy Spirit that we have received at baptism, at work in us. It is also the bond that gives power to our prayers such as when we agree to pray together for common intentions. For Jesus assures us that “where two or three are BONDED TOGETHER IN HIS NAME,” he is there in their midst. What we think we cannot do, Jesus can, if we bond together IN HIS NAME.
(Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 6 September 2020, Matthew 18:15-20)