Fraternal Correction

By  Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo)

Fraternal correction is an act of charity of pointing out to others their fault which could harm themselves and others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically includes fraternal correction as one of the proofs of our love for others. “The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction.” (CCC 1829) We live in a very imperfect world inhabited by very imperfect people. It’s unavoidable that we would offend others or at the receiving end of an offense whether intentional or not, thus we need to correct one another.

Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us how to correct one another in the following passage of St. Matthew’s Gospel. “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.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

The first criteria our Lord is giving us is in correcting others is to do it in private.  We should not embarrass people of correcting them in public. The goal is to point out their mistake and help them do the right thing and not to humiliate them in the open. Thus, we should not resort to correcting people in social media, but try approaching them privately. Christ’s second advise means if he or she acknowledges his or her fault well and good and rejoice for having helped a brother or sister, but if not, try to get the help of others in making the person see his or her mistake. The others could be the parents of this person, older relatives, his or her close friend, office boss, etc. If he or she would still not listen, Christ recommends telling it to the Church which means trying to get the help of a parish priest, or an elder religious person who could talk to him or her in a spiritual sense. Lastly, if it still does not work, our Lord advises us to treat him or her as a Gentile or a tax collector which does not mean to totally give up on this person but leave him alone for a while, hoping that he will come to his senses but at the same time praying for him.

Fraternal correction is practicing tough love. Tough love means because I love you, I don’t want you to continue living with that character defect because it could eventually harm you seriously.  It’s like telling an unaware car driver that he has a flat tire. Fraternal correction is sacrificing a short-term inconvenience for a long-term benefit.  It’s saying no to a temporary happiness and saying yes, to a lasting joy for others. True friends would correct each other. If you really are a friend to your friend who is into drugs for example, you just can’t say, “We’ll, that’s his way of making himself happy. I’ll leave him alone.”  On the contrary you bravely tell him, “It pains me to see you destroying your life and your future. I’ll have to point this out to you because you’re my friend.”  Phil Stutz, author of the best-selling book, “Crazy Good” compares correcting or helping others as the difference between “Serving vs. Pleasing”.  Here’s how he puts it in his great book: “When I was a desperate, suicidal alcoholic and I came to your home and you made me a strong drink, you were pleasing me. If, instead, you took me to a Twelve-Step meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (a rehab program for alcoholics) you were serving me. There’s a big difference between pleasing and serving.”

The late Pope Benedict XVI talks about fraternal correction in one of his public Sunday Angelus back in 2011, “Brotherly love involves a sense of mutual responsibility. 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 St. Augustine of Hippo, who said Christians cannot be indifferent to the “severe wound” a fellow believer may have inflicted upon themselves through sin. And that fraternal correction should be animated by love and not revenge insisting “you have to forget the hurt you have received but not the wound of your brother.”

The Pope Benedict continues, “All this indicates that there is a shared responsibility in the way of Christian life.  Everyone, aware of their limitations and defects, is called to welcome fraternal correction and help others with this particular service.  He concluded, 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.”  There is a lot of wisdom in acknowledging that we are not always right and that we need others to help us see our mistakes.