There Are No Exceptions to the Law of Charity.*
The Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the primary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ezekiel 33: 7-9.
• Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9.
• Matthew 18: 15-20.
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Galatians 5: 16-24.
• Psalm 117: 8-9.
• Matthew 6: 24-33.
The Sunday Before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross; a Postfestive Day of the Nativity of the Theotokos; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyrs Menodora, Mitrodora & Nymphodora.**
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Galatians 6: 11-18.
• John 3: 13-17.
10:54 AM 9/10/2017 — Most of you know I was a pastor for many years, and one can’t be a pastor for any length of time without more than one occasion when someone will write to the bishop with some sort of complaint. Often these letters are anonymous, in which case there’s nothing the bishop can do other than forward it to the priest for his information, or just toss it in the waste basket. But if the letter has been signed, and contact information given, if the bishop is a priest of any pastoral experience at all, the first thing he will do is write back to the author of the letter and ask, “Have you spoken to Father about this matter?” Nine times out of ten, the author has not.
Nobody likes confrontation. Some of us will go to extreme lengths to avoid it. One of the questions I get frequently comes from faithful souls who have loved ones who are not practicing their faith, and they want to know whether they should say anything. Their examination of conscience tells them that they should, but they are reticent at the prospect of creating a scene and suffering all the unpleasantness that comes with any confrontation of this sort. This usually happens a lot during holiday seasons when there is the ominous threat of some sort of family gathering on the horizon, and the wayward cousin who’s living in sin has been invited with his or her partner in crime. And I like to advise them to take a step back and ask, “If you were to say such-and-such to this person, what do you realistically believe would be the result?” Not, “What do you want to happen?” or, “What do you hope will happen?” but, “What do you think will actually happen?” Do you really believe that, having heard you out, that person will have a change of heart and return to the life of grace? or, is it more likely that he or she will become even more entrenched and resistant to any attempt to correct his faults?
Our Lord’s discourse to His disciples in today’s Gospel lesson is more about structure and authority in the Church, but it touches on this topic within that context. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matt. 18: 15 RM3). The reasons we don’t do that are many and varied;—we’re afraid of confrontation, we’re afraid of being wrong, we’re afraid of having our own faults exposed in some heated argument—but, whatever the reason, we’re always more inclined to complain to our friends, stew about it privately in ourselves, or even write anonymous letters, but the first thing we aught to do—according to our Lord—always turns out to be the last thing in the world we would do.
Now, our Lord goes on to outline what steps should be taken should our initial confrontation bare no fruit, and they have more to do with discipline within the Church than anything else, but we can also see the first verse of this lesson as a very profound instruction on the practice of the virtue of fraternal charity. No matter how offended we may have become at the conduct of another, we are never exempt from the rule of charity. A few of you who are regulars might just remember that line from the Rule of Saint Bruno I quote every year at the beginning of Lent: “Whenever you see a brother doing something forbidden by the rule, always assume he has permission.” We have enough to do policing our own souls, let alone setting ourselves up as arbiters of the souls of everyone else. Besides, when we have our own spiritual and moral houses in order, the example of how we live our faith speaks more eloquently than any words we could speak; or, as some mistakenly believe Saint Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Of course, the good Saint Francis never said any such thing, and taken by itself the saying is quite troublesome because it sets up a dichotomy between speech and action. What the Rule of Saint Francis actually says is, “All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.” And that’s quite different from setting up some artificial contest between those who “preach” and those who “do.”
But sufficient for our purpose today is to simply recognize that it’s the cultivation of prudence and the rule of charity that should guide all those instances in which we bump into other souls as we journey along to our final goal, which is salvation. Because, in spite of the many times we bump into each other along the way, we’re all traveling in the same direction and toward the same goal. Or, as we’ve said so many times this summer, “Our one purpose for being on this earth is to work out our salvation. Everything else is just window-dressing.”
* Today's Gospel lesson is the same as that for the Nineteenth Wednesday of Ordinary Time this year, and so is the homily. I'm old and tired and have had some physical issues lately, so that's the way it is. I did have the presence of mind to change the title to something comprehensible, so as to at least pretend that it's something new, especially since our Sunday crowd is significantly different from our weekday crowd; so, hopefully, it's not wasted.
** The Solemn Holy Day of the Exaltation of the Cross is of such importance in the Eastern Churches, that it is both preceded and followed by Sundays named after it, which both have proper lessons pertaining to their proximity to the feast.
The three martyrs who also share this day are believed to have been sisters. They were put to death for the faith in Bithynia under Galarius Maximiamus, probably between 303 and 311. Their feast, along with the Postfestive day of the Nativity of the Theotokos, figure in the Divine Liturgy of this day.