By: Bradley Opitz
You know that feeling, the feeling of being uncomfortable. You know you need to speak up, say something. Your mind focuses and your heart quickens. You have been confronted by the reality of one of your friends engaging in an act that you know in your heart is damaging in both a physical and spiritual way.
The issue of fraternal correction or calling your friends out is as old as creation its self. You may not know it yet, but calling out a friend is an art. It is so much of an art that the Church prescribes a way to do it that will lead to holiness and, hopefully, not heartbreak or the loss of a friend.
Before I go any further, a disclaimer needs to be issued. There is nothing that you or I can say or do that will convert anyone. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to bring about conversion of the heart. Our responsibility is to be a witness to the Truth that Christ has brought to the world.
When calling out a friend, scripture gives us a four-step process to follow. Ultimately this is going to lead you and the one being called out into a deeper understanding Christian justice, prudence and charity.
You and your friend go to a party on a Friday evening. The host’s parents are out of town. A few people you know got their older brother or sister to buy them alcohol. You find that your friend ends up underage drinking, gets his or her mack on and hooks up with someone. This is not the first time that this has happened. In fact you see that your friend acts one way at Church and then acts differently when away from Church. You know in your heart that that is not ok. What do you do?
“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.” –Matthew 18:15
This scripture verse gives us the first step in properly calling your friend out. By keeping the fault to between you and him guards you from the sin of gossip. Gossip cuts down the bonds of relationships. In keeping the fault between you and the person being called out also safeguards the people involved from causing unneeded scandal. In other words, if you have a problem with what someone is doing, don’t talk about it with other people. Go directly to the source, the person who is at fault. Remember that it is not up to you to judge the actions of the person. It is up to you to love that person by giving reason to why he or she needs to stand firm in the truth of Christ. If your friend does not listen to you proceed to step two.
“If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” –Matthew 18:16
This step brings a greater witness to truth. By bringing one or two other people who can witness to the truth allows the other person to know that issue with the fault is not just your opinion. In fact it gives greater meaning to what you are saying is true. Make sure that you do your homework first before applying this step. It is important that you and your friends do not come off sounding judgmental or that you are there to just ganging up. This step needs to come from a place that is not emotional but rather concerned with the well-being and holiness of the person being called out. If your friend does not listen then proceed to step three.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church…” –Matthew 18:17
This does not mean that you are to stand up in front of the alter telling the whole Church what your friend has done. This step is a call to ask your priest or pastor for help and guidance. If the situation has progressed this far then the situation is something that needs to be corrected by someone that has greater authority and training in witnessing to the truth. This is where the person at fault can receive reconciliation and direction in how to properly seek God and holiness in their daily life. If the person does not listen proceed to step four.
“If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” –Matthew 18:17
When sin enters into a person’s life he or she cuts himself or herself away from the Body of Christ, the Church. We are all in need in asking Christ for forgiveness for our own sins. Every time we commit a mortal sin, we become like a Gentile and tax collectors. Gentiles and tax collectors were considered to be outsiders. We are called to treat our brother or sister as if they are outsiders too. This is to be done in a way that does not alienate them or make them feel like you have renounced their friendship. This step calls us to love as Jesus did and still does. Christ did not neglect the Gentiles and tax collectors. Rather, he broke bread with them. He spent time with them. He healed them and ministered to them. Through that, Christ enabled, supported and equipped them to know the Love of God. Many of them responded in faith by loving God back and becoming saints.
By your baptism you are called to be a missionary and to be a witness to the Love and Truth Christ brings to the world. In all occasions, this process calls us to prayerfully approach our friends and point them in the direction of Christ and the sacraments. Our goal is the Eucharist and to receive forgiveness and to be healed for the ways in which our relationship with God has become damaged due to our actions.