Fraternal correction

[I will not post for a few days. Thank you always for taking time to read here]

In reality, before the Lord we are all sinners
and all in need of forgiveness.
All of us.
Indeed, Jesus told us not to judge.
Fraternal correction is an aspect of the love
and the communion that should reign
in the Christian community.
It is a mutual service that we can
and must render to each other
and it is possible and effective only
if each person recognizes himself as a sinner
and in need of the Lord’s forgiveness.
The same awareness that enables me
to recognize the errors of the other;
first of all reminds me that I myself
have made, and make mistakes,
many times. – Pope Francis

The other day, I was visiting with a retired priest and I asked him for highlights of what he’d learned over his 50+ years in ministry. Among other things, he said:

I’m convinced most of us can’t handle much reality. We just can’t. We cocoon ourselves into a safe space, an echo chamber. We believe what suits us best. And maybe lots of that is a defense we’ve created for very good reasons that suit a purpose. And God loves us there. He’s with us no matter where we hide. The problem is we can miss out when he calls us forward, to not be afraid to face things. The truth.

We discussed that for a bit, and I asked him what he felt the antidote to that phobia of reality was. He said:

Well, for sure we need help, can’t do it alone. We need God’s help. To get out of the pits we’ve fallen in, to carry us when reality hits hard. Here’s the only place you really see we are saved by God’s grace alone and not by our own strength. Until you’re in the pit, grace is just a consoling idea. When we see we’re powerless, that’s when grace shows itself as everything. Without belief in undeserved grace, I really don’t know how you can face reality without despair.

He went on:

I also have always said, I think everyone should go to counseling or psychotherapy at some point, get in touch with your erroneous zones, as Wayne Dyer called it. Do you remember that book? [I did, my dad had it on a bookshelf when I was a kid] And this is what Confession is supposed to be — the sacrament of facing reality. Where you should be able to look at things straight on with Christ. I tell people, he’s the only absolutely safe space where you can face your own mess, others’ failures, life’s disappointments – you know, your failed response to all life throws at you.

I mentioned to him what he said reminded me of the saying of St. Silouan, “Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.” Facing reality at its darkest with Christ is what hope really means. We discussed this briefly, then he went on:

But you know, Tom, even if you don’t go to counseling, I believe everyone has to have a truthful person in their life, a friend, spiritual guide — someone who can listen, tell ‘em like it is. The good, the bad and the ugly. Someone you trust who knows you well enough, who’s level headed and has some good sense in them. To whom you can say the worst things, and who isn’t afraid to be totally honest with you. Who won’t blow smoke in your face. But you have to give them permission to be honest and not pout after they criticize you like a sad sack. You have to ask them now and again, “Okay, tell me the truth — how I’m doing. Anything you see I’m not seeing? Help me see reality a little clearer.” In small doses it can be a big help.

If you have someone in your life like this, you’ve found a treasure. And if you are this for someone, it’s one of the greatest acts of love. Beg God for that every day — for that person and to be that person.

Again, we discussed this and gave examples from both of our lives of this practice. Then he added one last point:

But to me, the true test for how much reality you can take is how you receive unsolicited criticism. Fair or unfair. That’s a tough one. God spare us! But it’s so important to learn from. In fact, I think it can teach you things about yourself nothing else can. Though solicited advice from a well-meaning person is better in the long run for ongoing growth, unsolicited criticism helps you see sharply your blind spots, hidden injuries and especially your vices. You know, the things God wants to enter and work on. Your critics do you a great service of pointing out what you need to show God later.

And it teaches humility, which is the virtue that disposes you to accept truth. Criticism reveals something of the character of humility. Mother Teresa said, I think, “If you’re humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

We humans — myself included — turn those opportunities into angry self-defensive responses or resentment or calumny, or we sink into self-loathing. And so we miss the real opportunity criticism can offer.

I think this invitation to benefit from criticism might be something of what Jesus meant when he said, “Bless those who curse you.” They’re a gift in disguise.

{By a wonderful coincidence of God’s timing, within hours after I wrote the first draft of this post the other day, I was very directly confronted by someone for something I had done that they found offensive. It was intense. And it was amazing, really. The timing. It reminded me of a theology prof I had in the early 1990’s who once said to me, when I told him I felt God was calling me to teach the faith as a profession: “It’s a noble and high calling. But remember that when you teach the faith, God will exact a price and may often ask you to live through the mysteries you teach.”}

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