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Love cannot hurt your neighbor

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland


Sept. 7, 2014
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

Relationships are complicated. Different temperaments, points of view and tastes almost assure us that we will have differences of opinion and conflicts. The words “fraternal correction” are emotionally laden. There are some who correct us simply because it is their task to mentor us and help us grow. Others simply disagree with our point of view.

As a young person, I remember my parents saying “This hurts me more than it hurts you” when they grounded us. As a teenager, we announced that we could scarcely wait until we reached the magic age of 18 when no one would have the right to correct us. We quickly learned that correction is part of life no matter what our age. Those who share a loving relationship are called to help one another mature. Sometimes this means that we must say hard things.

Loving correction should not be limited to the family and to those in positions of authority. Those who share a Christian lifestyle and value system have a right to expect help in living out their commitment. All of us share the responsibility of helping one another grow in love and in faith. This is not always easy. We correct and are corrected.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we have an obligation to speak out against injustice and sin. For most of us, personal disagreement dividing the parish is not about sin and can be resolved by charitable discussion. Jesus uses the word “brother” and applies it to the intimate relationship we share with other believers. The measures to be taken are spelled out and the person who corrects in love is directed to persevere even to the extent of bringing the wrong to the attention of the community.

Too often, parishes are divided by different interpretations of church custom or discipline. First of all, personal and loving disagreement should not be a communal or public event. It should occur between those who are concerned. Neither should correction be confrontational.

Secondly, difficulties should be resolved at their most basic level. Whenever I hear today’s Gospel, I wonder if the early Church had the same difficulties that we have today. Most of us know that it was never intended that those who have a problem with the president of the altar society should go to the pastor to have it resolved. It was never meant that the bishop should resolve difficulties between a pastor and his parishioner. A letter to the Vatican is not a reasonable response to a disagreement with a liturgical change. Such actions frustrate everyone concerned and inhibit resolution. The most distressing result when resolution is sought through radical action is that the bond of charity uniting the community is broken.

Loving correction most often begins with a question rather than an answer. It takes time, and there is no denying that it is risky business. Yet, love seeks to lead and to be led. It does not seek to dominate or be dominated.

As we gather before the altar, we pledge to help the community grow in holiness. We pray especially for those who are nearest and dearest to us. The relationships we bring to the altar are born of struggle and dialogue. We pray that it may ever be so. We need the courage to lead one another to the Lord.







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