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Fraternal Correction, True Love and Prayer

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For the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel reading is on Matthew 18:15-20. The gospel passage lends itself to two divisions: vv. 15-18 on fraternal correction and 19-20 on unanimity in prayer. And so our patristic symposium will deal on three subjects. Augustine speaks on frathernal correction and John Chrysostom on the spirit of Christian love. In the end, Cyprian speaks on unanimity in prayer.

We have mentioned how the Fathers usually repeat the gospel reading within their sermons. This is so because the faithful did not have the facility we have now of having their own copies of the Scriptures at home. When the preacher repeats passages it is for helping the faithful remember the words. The line by line commentary — a feature of present day commentaries — gives the occassion for drawing out the spiritual sense of Scriptures directly from the literal sense. Augustine not only quotes passages, he also rephrases them for the benefit of the faithful.

John Chrysostom, in this piece from his In Mattaeum, shows how that love which is popularly known is not necessarily Christian love. What he does here is basically similar to what Pope Benedict XVI does in the first part of his encyclical “Deus caritas est”. The main thesis of John Chrysostom is that because men are motivated by terrenal intentions, their love is less ardent and less constant, therefore less “love”, than a love motivated by Christ.

Finally, Cyprian of Carthage talks about praying in unity. Modern readers may find it strange that he asserts that Christ does not wish private and individual prayer. Didn’t the Lord say one should pray “in secret”? Thing is, prayer “in secret” does not have our connotation of private and individualistic. To be in solitude, then, does not mean to be cut off from others.


Fraternal Correction

“If your brother sins against you, talk about it between the two of you alone (Mt. 18:15)”. Why still discuss it? That you might add to the offense he has committed against you? Let it not be so! If you do it out of love for yourself, you’ll achieve something. But if you do it out of love for him, you’d be doing something excellent. Pay attention therefore to the words themselves so as to understand which among the two loves should motivate you in this: love of yourself, or love of him.

“If he listens to you, then you have regained your brother.” Do it therefore for his sake, so as to regain him. By acting thus, you would regain him; if you don’t do anything, he would be lost. Why is it that the majority of men despise these sins saying: What big wrong have I dont? I sinned against a man. Do not despise anything. You have sinned against a man and do you wish to know why sinning against a man you are lost? If he against whom you have sinned discussed the matter privately between you and him alone, and you listened to him, he would have regained you. What does it mean “he would regain you” if not that you have been lost if he had not tried to regain you back? In fact, if you were not about to be lost, in what way would he have regained you back? No one therefore should despise anyone when he sins against a brother. In fact a certain passage from Paul says: “Sinning thus against the brothers and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12)” and this is so because all of us have become members of Christ. How can you say you have not sinned against Christ if you have sinned against a member of Christ?

“If your brother sinned against you, talk about it between the two of you alone.” If you neglect to do this, you are worse. He did you injury, and doing this, he inflicted upon himself a grave wound. Do you despise the would of your brother? You see him perishing or you see him already lost and you don’t mind him? In your silence you are worse than him in injuring. For this reason, when someone sins against us, let us try to have great care, not for ourselves — in fact it is a glorious thing to forget injuries. Forget your injury but not the wound of your brother. Therefore “take the matter between the two of you alone” with the intention of correcting him, conquering all human respect. In fact, taken by great shame, he’d begin defending his sin and you’d make him worse whom you wish to correct. “Take the matter” therefore “between the two of you alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother” because you would be lost if you don’t do it.

“If however he does not listen to you”, that is, if he defends his sin as if it were a wound done to him, “take with you two or three witnesses, so as to resolve the issue on the word of two or three witnesses. If however he does not listen even to these, bring the matter to the Church. If he does not listen to the Church, let him be to you like a pagan or a publican” (Mt. 18:16-17). Do not include him any longer to the number of your brothers. However, this does not mean that one should neglect his salvation. In fact, these same pagans and gentiles are not included among the number of the brothers, and yet, we always seek their salvation. We have heard this from the Lord who admonishes us, taking much care in doing so, so that we can always have in mind his words: “In truth I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt. 18:18)”. You have begun to retain your brother as a publican, tie him on the earth, but — pay attention — tie him up justly. Justice breaks unjust ties. When, on the other hand, you have corrected him and you are reconciled with your brother, tu have loosed him on earth. When you have loosed him on earth, he will also be loosed in heaven. Thus, do you grant much, not to yourself but to him; and he did a lot of damage, not to you, but to himself.

Augustine, Sermon 82, 4.7

Love the other for Christ

“Where two or three are united in my name, there am I in their midst (Mt. 18:20)”. Aren’t there two or three united in his name? There are, true, but rarely. Jesus in fact does not speak simply of a physical unity, nor does he seek unity alone, but above all — as I’ve said before — he also seeks all the other virtues together with it; and he requires these with rigor. It is as if he would say: If anyone holds me as the foundation and principal cause of his friendship for the other, I will be such to him on the condition that he has all other virtues. Instead we see during these days that the majority of men have other and diverse reasons for their friendship. Look: a man loves so that he he may be loved; another loves so that he may be honored; while yet another loves because the other one is useful to him in some business or for another similar reason. But it is difficult to find someone who because of Christ loves the other truly, as he ought to love. Generally, men unite themselves for earthly motives. Paul did not love this way: he loved because of Christ; the reason for his love was Christ. For this reason, even if he was not loved as he loved, his love never failed, because he was deeply rooted in love. Unfortunately today no one loves in this way.

If one would examine every case, one would find that generally friendship is caused by something else than the love of Christ. And if I would do such a research among a great multitude of persons, I’d demonstrate that the majority of men are united among themselves for motives inherent to the necessities of an earthly existence. What I say is evident considering even the causes that provoke enmity and hate. Since men seek each other for reasons that are passing, even their friendship is not ardent nor constant. A hint of displeasure or a bitter word, the loss of a small amount of money, a feeling of envy, vain desire and whatever similar incident is enough to break a friendship. The fact is that this friendship does not have spiritual roots; nothing earthly and material can break a spiritual tie; it cannot be defeated nor destroyed. Neither by calumnies nor by dangers, nor by death or other can shatter it, nor even take it away from the soul of a man. Whoever loves on account of Christ, even if he should suffer infinite pain, contemplating the cause of his love, will never cease to love. Instead, if anyone loves so as to be loved, stops to love just when he begins to suffer from some bitterness. Whoever is tied with the love of Christ will not desist from loving. For this, even Paul asserts “Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8)”

John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum, 60, 3

Prayer that is Communitarian

The Doctor of peace and the Teacher of unity does not wish that prayer be done individually and in private, in the sense that one prays for oneself alone.

We don’t say: My Father who is in heaven. Nor do we say: Give me today my daily bread, and each one does not ask that his debt be remitted. Nor does one pray that he alone be not lead to temptation and freed from evil.

Our prayer is public and communal, and when we pray, we pray not only for one but for the whole people. This is so because we, the whole people of God, are one.

The God of peace and the Teacher of concord who taught us unity wish that one prays for all, just as he brought all into one.

It is this law of prayer which the three boys thrown into the flaming furnace observed. They prayed in full accord, spiritually united with one heart . The divine Scriptures witness to this in that by showing us how they prayed, we are given models to imitate in our prayers so that we can be like them. “And so” — it is written — “the three of them, as if with voice only, sang a hymn and they blessed God (Daniel 3:51)”. They prayed as if with one voice and yet Christ did not yet teach them how to pray! And yet their prayer was efficacious, it could be heard, because a prayer of peace, simple and spiritual attracts the benevolence of God.

And so we see also how the apostles prayeed, as they were reunited with the disciples after the ascension of the Lord. “And all” — it is written — “were persevering unanimously in prayer, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, with his brothers (Acts 1:14)” They persevered unanimously in prayer, giving witness in such wise, in their prayer, in their diligence and in their mutual love that God, who makes to dwell in the same house those who are in one heart (Psalm 67:7), does not admit anyone in his eternal and divine dwelling place except those who pray with one heart.

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Our Father, 8

Originally posted 2008-08-21 01:12:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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