“Father, your gifts of grace once lost by disobedience are now restored by the obedience of Your Son”
Today’s Mass will find these words on my lips and in your hearts as we open our Eucharistic Prayer. And while September traditionally finds our parish reflecting on Stewardship and the use of our gifts of time, talent and treasure, I wonder if it might serve us well to consider the gifts of God’s grace poured out upon us and within us, and how our stewardship of virtue might be cherished and nurtured among us.
In our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel hears the stern warning from God:
“If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt,…but you shall save yourself.”
Clearly, we have a responsibility that God places on our shoulders to lovingly correct and encourage one another. When we see or hear sin in another, it is important for us to warn the perpetrator.
And in our gospel today, although many may question the actual words used by the Master—Jesus—no one can question His message:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”
Clearly, Christ is encouraging us to serve the needs even of our brother who wrongs us. He clearly instructs us to serve the needs even of that brother by going to him and sharing with him the fault that you have witnessed. He does not say to tell the fault to others. He does not invite us to magnify the fault, to gossip about it, to spread rumors about our brother who wrongs us: His response is simply and directly to speak to our brother with a view toward charity. Our goal is not to embarrass, but rather to encourage the growth of virtue in our brother, so that he might be loosed from the sin he has committed…and be free once again to walk in God’s grace.
I bring this point home because it appears to me that so often we—each of us—is often tempted to engage in gossip. When we don’t know facts or answers, we often tend to assume certain things or to make-up certain “facts” so that we can move on to make a damning judgment against another. Why? I’m not sure, but I wonder if it’s to make ourselves appear better, smarter, stronger, holier. But when we make a judgment about anything we run the risk of shutting out accurate information or authentic truth…and we actually run the significant risk of making ourselves worse, more ignorant, weaker and fall further into sin.
Just this week alone, Hurricane Irene had nothing on the whirlwind of derision that floated across my desk: complaints about the Parish Picnic being held on September 11th; complaints that claim “he’s doing way too much at our parish!” (I must admit I’ve never heard of someone being ridiculed for trying to do too much); complaints about not having air conditioning while in the same breath saying that they would never pay for it; disruption of our common union when one parishioner decides to talk and complain throughout any part of our liturgies, apparently making inappropriate and mean-spirited comments…thus distracting and giving scandalous witness to others around them. Clearly in this last example, this poor person is failing to see the great gift and grace that we are in the midst of…Christ’s own Body as we are gathered here.
And again, Hurricane Irene didn’t slow down gossip this week either…here are just a few examples: that I made the wrong decision to hire our new Associate for Liturgy & Music; gossip that claimed to know an injustice in the salaries that I pay to staff members; rumors that I am never here…I promise the parish staff wishes that were true!
These are just some of the many examples that I hear of and try to respond to each week…yes, each and every week. While I am strongly tempted to sin myself and allow my frustration with gossip to become a sin for me by responding in anger, by throwing up my arms and simply walking away, I also need to recall and recommit myself each day to living out the gospel of virtue: to be most patient; to warn my sisters and brothers of impending danger; to be loving; to be kind in my dealings with others. I’m not perfect and oftentimes I fail in a quick moment of frustration or disappointment…but then I trust that another—maybe one of you—will come to me, reveal my sin to me, and win me over again to a life of virtue.
Consider your own life in the last three days: where have you been judgmental of another? When have you gossiped about another or others? When have you failed to encourage a virtuous life in those around you? Remember, all it takes is for us to share ourselves more fully with God’s grace…to cultivate it in our daily actions and to serve the needs of even those who sin against us. May God’s grace find us as good stewards of virtue, and may He always restore us to His friendship.
May God love you and keep you close, Fr. David