BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas

Mt. 18:15-20

While driving on their way to the province, a couple stopped for lunch at a restaurant along the highway. After a quick meal, they resumed their trip. After travelling for half an hour, the woman realized she left her glasses in the restaurant. When the husband learned about it, he was very angry. But he had no choice. They had to return to the restaurant to retrieve her glasses. All the way back, the husband complained and berated his wife relentlessly. Finally, when they arrived at the restaurant, the woman got out of the car and as she hurried inside, the husband called out to her, “While you’re in there, you might as well get my wallet and my credit card!”

Nobody is perfect. We all have our weaknesses and mistakes. We are sinners. This is the reality of our human nature. But it is precisely because of our sinfulness that the Incarnation took place. God became man to save us from sin and restore us to His grace. Indeed, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom”. St. Augustine referred to original sin as “felix culpa” or “happy fault”. The Church sings this in the Exultet during the Easter Vigil: “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.” It is sad to note, however, that there are now many people who believe that there is no more sin. This is the fruit of what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” He said, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

Relativism says that there is no objective right and wrong that equally applies to everyone. Instead, the only thing that matters is what each individual feels is right and wrong for him. I remember the famous hit song by Debbie Boone in 1977 entitled, “You Light Up My Life.” It is a beautiful song, but towards the end, it expresses this idea of relativism. It says, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right. ‘Cause you, you light up my life.”

In other words, morality depends entirely on one’s personal feelings and perceptions. Sin is just a matter of feeling or subjective interpretation. It is quite interesting to note that while we profess that it is the Lamb of God “who takes away the sins of the world,” this is not what many people nowadays believe. For them, it is the mass media, or politicians or the majority that takes away the sins of the world. In the face of this sad and alarming situation, the Sunday readings reiterate the truth that sin is real and extremely dangerous to our souls. And we have the serious obligation to teach and remind one another about this. Failure to do so would be a grave sin of omission. The first reading points this out. The prophet Ezekiel is the watchman of Israel, and he receives a stern warning from God: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked, you must die,’ and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood” (Ez 33:8).

In short, under pain of divine punishment, we are duty-bound to remind, admonish and correct one another. This is where many Catholics are lacking. In his address a few years back, Pope Benedict XVI asked forgiveness on behalf of generations of “cradle Catholics” who have failed to transmit the faith to others. He said, “We who have known God since we were young, must ask forgiveness…because we bring people so little of the light of His face, because from us comes so little certainty that He exists, that He is there, and that He is the Great One that everyone is waiting for.”

(Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 30, 2011 – CNA). We do not dare speak the hard truths of our faith, particularly on matters of doctrine and morality, because we do not want to offend anybody, or be considered as intolerant or uncharitable. But far from being uncharitable, the proclamation of the truth is an essential way of charity, as what the Pope reminded us in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. In fact, admonishing sinners is one of the spiritual works of mercy, along with giving instruction to the ignorant and counseling the doubtful.

God wants everybody to be saved. He does not desire the death of a sinner: “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked – oracle of the Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?” (Ez 18:23). That is why Jesus teaches us in the Gospel about fraternal correction – how to correct an erring brother and bring him back to the path of salvation. Underlying the whole thing should be genuine love or charity, for as St. Paul says in the second reading: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”

The first step is quite important: “If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” In short, we must be careful not to malign his reputation by revealing his defects or sins to others without serious reason. After all, “love does no evil to the neighbor.” And if in the end, despite all efforts to dissuade him from his sinful ways, the erring brother remains unrepentant and defiant, the Lord instructs the community to “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” That means treating him as an outsider. This action should be seen not as a punitive measure but as a charitable way to help him realize his mistake, and return to the Lord with humble and contrite heart.

We now see the rapid and unrelenting spread of evil, immorality and sin in our world. Shall we continue being passive and impervious to all these? Unless we do something now, we may find ourselves the next victims. As the famous saying goes, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Let the Gospel this Sunday inspire and empower us to proclaim the truth courageously, to denounce evil and sin resolutely, and to correct wrongdoers in truth and charity.

Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422

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