Iron Sharpens Iron (or How to Lose Some Friends and Gain Better Ones)
It was a cold wintery day and I was angry. Very angry. As we drove, I looked down the street where the person lived who had hurt me months previous, and I uttered a small curse in their general direction. Just as those words flew from my untamed tongue, they were struck down by some of the most powerful words I have ever heard. “You need to forgive them!” These words hit my stony heart like acid. Every angry and unmerciful nerve in my body tightened. This friend of mine did not understand what it was like to lose everything you loved because of the actions of someone else. He had never lost a job or had vicious rumours spread about him. Though he did not understand personally, he was right. Those words began to break me down slowly and bring me back to a place of forgiveness. I needed him to say that to me. If he had not done that, I would not be in the place I am today.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. These two men worked diligently in the work of evangelization and pastoring. They also knew, however, how to do one thing very well: To correct and admonish the Faithful. There are no other examples I can think of in the Bible that typify the need for us to correct each other more than St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Paul encourages the people of Colossae saying, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God”(Colossians 3:16).
There is a rich tradition of admonishment in the Church beginning with Christ and the Apostles. The Church has, in her wisdom, included admonishment, also known an Fraternal Correction, to the list of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. This spiritual work, however, tends to fly in the face of the world’s standards. Sadly, the world’s standards have affected many of us, and so, like myself in the story above, we struggle with being corrected. The world encourages us to be our own measure of right and wrong, and so when someone corrects us, if we have even a small amount of the sin of pride, our defences go up and we want to fight or run the other way. Have we seen this in our own lives? How many of us tend to let things slide instead of dealing with our brother or sister in Christ? In Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Message for Lent in 2012, he spoke on this very fact stating that, “It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness.”
There are those who use the concept of “Christian Admonishment”, and beat people into the ground with their words. This is not what Christian Admonishment is at all. Pope Emeritus from the same Lenten message said, “Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other.” If this is not the case, we need to shut our mouths. The bloggersphere is a breeding ground for unhealthy conversation and public humiliation. Our Blessed Lord, however, set the standard for how to deal with one another. He states:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17).
Catholic communities need to be built upon charity. This is obvious. You can really tell the spiritual maturity of a Catholic Community by how well the members bridle their tongue and speak in truth and charity. Our wonderful Pope Emeritus reminds us that, “the Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation.” In the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, Cain turned against Abel and killed him in cold blood. When God asked where Abel was after Cain murdered him, Cain responded, “I know not: am I my brother’s keeper?”(Genesis 4:9) Obviously God knew. Like us, if we do not care for one the spiritual wellbeing of another in charity, we can inevitably be responsible for their spiritual death. At which point, just like God said to Cain, we will hear “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the earth”(Genesis 4:10). At the end of our lives, I pray that God can look at you and I and see people who were unafraid to admonish and exhort in charity. So in the spirit of that charity I say to you, “Stop reading this blog and go and call someone on to holiness!”