If I tell the wicked, "O wicked one, you shall surely die, "and 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. (Ez 33:8-9)
These words from Ezekiel fit so well this week with St. Paul instruction to love our neighbor (Rm 13:8-10), as well as Our Lord's instruction (Mt 18:15-20) for how properly to admonish one's brother. It seems only too logical to view these teachings in light of the set of precepts commonly referred to as The Spiritual Works of Mercy. These spiritual works of mercy, are, as some may recall, juxtaposed to the corporal works of mercy, which focus on caring for the physical well-being of one's neighbor.
For the sake of reference, the two lists are as follows:
The Corporal Works of Mercy:
- Feed the hungry
- Clothe the naked
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Ransom the captive
- Bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy:
- Instruct the ignorant
- Counsel the doubtful
- Admonish the sinner
- Bear wrongs patiently
- Forgive offenses willingly
- Comfort the afflicted
- Pray for the living and the dead
In the context of our reflection, we focus mainly on the spiritual works of mercy, which are not quite as self-evident as the corporal works of mercy. The above passage of Ezekiel, when read in light of Jesus and St. Paul, paints a very clear picture of the Christian's moral duty to do all things possible to prevent the damnation of one's neighbor. Indeed, it is a moral necessity to admonish one whom you know to be in error. To fail in this task--according to Isaiah--forfeits one's own salvation.
To look at this in a broader perspective, we examine the need to admonish sinners and to instruct the ignorant in light of the Gospel mandate to love one's neighbor. Contrary to the modernistic paradigm in which criticism of another's beliefs--no matter how misguided--is seen as bigoted and wrong, fidelity to the Truth of Jesus Christ obliges every Christian not merely to stand idly by and observe his neighbor proceed down the path of heresy and death, but rather to step in and correct the error. The refusal to take up this charge would, in effect, make the individual culpable for his own neighbor's demise.
But any such admonition is not to be made out of self-righteous indignation or puffed-up arrogance. To correct one's neighbor must be a supreme act of love--not the modernist permissiveness that is veiled in a poorly-disguised sentiment that calls itself love, but the true love of God--a love that is parental in nature, and which chastises as much as it comforts. The love of neighbor requires more than merely extending platitudes in the name of secularist "tolerance."
True Christian love must be firmly rooted in the Truth that is the love of Jesus Christ--a love which is inherently antithetical to the postmodern mentality, wherein relativism poisons the mind into thinking that all opinions are equal. We know, in fact, that to be Christian is to live a life that is directly opposed to that--to live a life that is firmly rooted in absolute and objective Truths that are not subject to the whims of social convention and fad, but are rooted in the Divine-Natural Law, most especially as it has been revealed to us in Christ Jesus.
Truly to love one's neighbor, one must be willing to go beyond what may be socially acceptable protocol for interaction. Our obligation as Christians stretches far beyond the mundane relationality of modernist society in which neighbors has only superficial concern for each other. To be a Christian to is to seek intimacy with others, as we are all spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. The spiritual relationship we have with our neighbors is fostered, cultivated, and nurtured by our willingness to engage in mutual spiritual works of mercy. In this way, our hearts are opened up to one another, and the love of God which resides in us is able to permeate all those around us. This sharing of God's love becomes the conduit through which all virtues are shared within a society. Thus we seek to better each other by making ourselves accountable not just to God, but to each other as true communal beings. And it is in this accountability that we help ourselves, and others, to grow in holiness, to grow in our love of God and of His Holy Church.
May the love of God, which surpasses all understanding, help us to grow closer to our neighbors, to seek the good of all those who have been led astray, and to draw us all closer to one another in true Christian love and charity through a mutual sharing of grace and through the Spiritual Works of Mercy carried out in that same spirit of Love.