When my husband and I were raising our four children, we were acutely aware of our responsibility to help them navigate the physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers of this life, and to set their feet firmly on the path to Heaven.
Practically, it meant more than praying for them, reading parenting books, and seeking others’ advice. Daily, it involved clear directions, loving reminders, firm correction, and consistent guidance.
We communicated the important stuff to them in person, not via notes, phone calls, texts, or emails. I never once recall them saying, “Who do you think you are, telling us how to behave?!” (Although they certainly may have thought it!) As members of the Herbeck family, they mostly understood correction as a necessary expression of our love for them.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us immensely practical wisdom for how to live as part of God’s family. (See Matthew 18:15-20.)
The Church calls fraternal correction a spiritual work of mercy; its aim is to bring forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and restoration to the body of Christ. It can be difficult, awkward, frightening, embarrassing, and humbling for both the initiator and the recipient.
However, we embrace this task in love because we are family, and as members of God’s household, we have a responsibility to care for and help one another get to Heaven.
My temperament and family upbringing often make it hard to follow Jesus’ directive. It seems easier to avoid confrontation, diminish, or excuse the offense. So when a brother or sister in Christ sins against me, I need to ask Jesus for the courage to initiate reconciliation by going directly to that person and addressing the hurt face-to-face.
I must resist the temptation to gossip, to bring it to other people’s attention, or to get others on my side. My overarching goal isn’t to be right or to vindicate myself, but to speak the truth in love. When we do this, we can help each another stay on the path that leads to Heaven.
After all, isn’t that what it means to be a family?
To learn more about how to apply the works of mercy to our lives, read more about the spiritual works here.
Debra Herbeck, a Jewish convert to the Church, has worked extensively in youth and women’s ministry. She has directed Pine Hills Girls Camp for the past 32 years, is the founder and Director of the Be Love Revolution, and also helps lead a ministry called i.d.916. She has written a number of books that can be found here. Debra and her husband Peter live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and are the parents of four children and five adorable grandchildren. She is a contributing author to our Works of Mercy Study: Misericordia.