Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Fraternal Correction

One of the topics that came up during the Rome seminar was that of fraternal correction. It's not something unique to religious life; in fact, Jesus talks about in the Gospel. "If your brother wrongs you, go and point out the wrong. But keep it between the two of you" (see Matthew 18:15-17). Today's first reading at Mass (from the Letter of James) gives the same advice that we find in the first letter of John (1 JN 5:16-17), so we see that fraternal correction was a real dimension of the early Church's communal life:
My brothers and sisters,
if anyone among you should stray from the truth
and someone bring him back,
he should know that whoever brings back a sinner
from the error of his way will save his soul from death
and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
In my 40+ years in the convent, I have been on the receiving end of fraternal correction on more than one occasion. It was painful and embarrassing, but the sisters did not beat around the bush. They expressed themselves in terms of what was good for me, not for themselves. Basically, they told me, "When you do X, you compromise your own best interests." I did not feel judged; it felt more like I was being shown on a map where I had veered from my intended pathway. Several of these incidents helped me so profoundly, that I am grateful to this day for the frankness and courage thse sisters had. Because fraternal correction, done well, takes both courage and gentleness. Fraternal correction has to be "fraternal": this person is the brother or sister you will continue to see at close quarters for many years to come or sit next to at Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, it can be really easy to get fraternal correction wrong, falling into sanctimonious judgments or condescending admonitions. Being on the wrong end of a "fraternal" correction that is anything but can feel like being the victim of a hit and run accident. A lot of the ugly stuff you I've seen in "Catholic" com boxes fits into this category, even though Jesus said that fraternal correction should be "between the two of you" until the offender rejects or refuses the offer. Fraternal correction is a private matter.

It is a very good idea for the one who would offer a fraternal correction to make a thorough examination of conscience first: First, is it about something external (for example, a pattern of behavior)--something apparent? In novitiate we were always reminded that when we attempt to go beneath the surface, we are in the territory of rash judgment, which is matter for confession. The only conscience we are allowed to examine is our own. Then: Why would I go to such and such a person to say this? Why would I be the one to offer this observation? (Is there a subtle pride at work in me?) Do I have strong feelings in the matter? (Intense feelings are a signal we should pay heed to, especially in a potential fraternal correction: if my feelings are in overdrive, I may be too close to the person to offer a "fraternal" correction--or the action I mean to take could be more for my benefit than the other's!)  Finally, have I prayed about this? Ask for the gift of wisdom--and of fear of the Lord, for this is holy ground.

Let me know: have you received a helpful and truly fraternal correction that made a difference in your life? How did the person go about offering this life-giving word to you?


Anonymous said...

Maybe a year ago, can't quite recall, you were discussing poverty in America and mentioned mothers using disposable diapers. I questioned why any mom short on cash would spend money on these when they could wash their own as I did when my children were babies (wringer washer, clothesline). You informed me they didn't have access to washing machines in most cases and finished off with "we meet them where they are not where we would like to see them be" or something to that effect.

I hadn't meant my suggestion to sound like a Marie Antoinette "let them eat cake" moment but your fraternal correction hit home and I've thought about it off and on since. In all interactions, personal, social, there will be instances where we cannot grasp why people make the choices they do, and/or why the interaction we have with them is muddled, but "meeting them where they are" at the moment rather than attempting to control the outcome, even with the best of intentions, seems the clearer thing to do. It also seems to allow for more movement of the Holy Spirit at the time.

So, in this one instance of fraternal correction, I am thankful to you for guiding my thinking towards a more fluid/less rigid mindset rather than should/should.

Loved your post and I think it's one to treasure. - Jean

Ginger Bap said...

Over the years I have studied a lot of martial arts and the discipline is very good. At the moment I am doing Brazilian jiu jitsu and I was most recently corrected for not wearing flipflops from changing room to mat to keep it clean.