The readings this Sunday remind us that we are all responsible for one another. It is not enough for anyone of us to turn our face away and ignore what our sister or brother is doing.
In the Old Testament God sent the prophets to carry his message to his people. God warns Ezekiel that if he commands him to deliver a message, and he does not carry out this command, then he is responsible for the death of the guilty person. We are all prophets. God calls us to speak his word to each other. Our role is not to judge, but to guide our sisters and brothers if we think they have gone astray. God offers correction through us.
Paul reminds us that we need to carry out this correction with love. ‘Love cannot hurt your neighbour!’ In the gospel, Jesus again encourages us to help our sisters and brothers to realise when they do something wrong. Jesus encourages us to do it kindly but assertively. Jesus gives us a three-step process to follow of how to correct. Finally, the sister or brother still refuses to change her or his way, Jesus invites us to treat them like he treats pagans and tax collectors, with great love and acceptance!
Contemporaries who were called by Malta’s Ecclesiastical Tribunal, between 1987 and 1992, to take part in the process of the cause of beatification of Joseph De Piro, have referred to the moments when he had the duty to correct someone. In his role as director of six orphanages, there were occasions when he had to draw the attention of the boys and girls with regard to the way they behaved during classes, in the chapel, during meals or in other aspects of their life. As canon at the Mdina cathedral, he corrected the altar boys. As rector of the major seminary, De Piro had to reprimand the seminarians. He also had the duty to correct the members of his nascent society. Whether it was the religious sisters who took care of the orphans at Fra Diegu Orphanage, sacristans at the cathedral, the seminarians, or the members of his society, they all said that De Piro never corrected in anger. On the contrary, he was prudent and charitable.
In a homily to the house superiors of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, he quoted the letter of James the apostle, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19).
‘Be quick to listen.’
What is the superior expected to listen to? What should she hear?
A superior once reflected: ‘If for many years I have been unable to keep in check my soul for one week, how can I keep in check the souls of my sisters, about whom I know nothing, and I am completely different from them?’ The answer she received was, ‘God will be with you.’ Do not lose courage, God is undoubtedly with you; however, you must do your part, to listen to God’s voice telling you what is best for your community. ‘Quick to listen,’ you must therefore pay great attention God’s voice.
God guides, manages and sanctifies your community through you. You have the duty to be always close to God to hear his voice, ‘Quick to listen.’ What is the aim of a community of religious sisters? It is a gathering of souls, that God has claimed as his special property, and, in doing so, appointed them as angels on earth. Through you, he will guide the community and shower them with his blessings. You must listen to him; you must be attentive to his voice, to discern his promptings. ‘Quick to listen.’
Where, when and how could one listen to God’s voice? The answer is, in Holy Communion. First, you need to be free of any sins, so you can daily receive the Blessed Sacrament. After Communion, having offered your sentiments of humility and gratitude for such a magnificent gift, you are to entreat him about the sisters entrusted to your care. Present each one to him, and pay attention to what he says for each sister. ‘Quick to listen.’
Pray and, above all, meditate. The half hour meditation should be for you, superiors, as a special half-hour meeting with God. He will issue his orders to you, his representative, or rather, his secretary. The ear of your soul must, at all times, be prepared to listen to his voice. ‘Quick to listen.’
You also have another means to listen to his voice, his presence. Make your soul always a temple of God. When you cannot meditate, when the time of Communion time has ended, do not be discouraged. Meet God within your soul, confer and pray with him, pray in a special way for the sisters entrusted to you. I am sure you would be very attentive if the Lord were to speak to you. ‘Quick to listen.’ Someone might be tempted by discouragement, some by thoughts that go against her vocation or with past memories. If the infernal wolf were to win over one of these souls entrusted to you, you will not be to blame.
Therefore use all means available to listen to God’s voice, Holy Communion, meditation, and the presence of God within you.
‘Do not be quick to speak.’
There is no doubt that fraternal correction is a sign of love. God affirms this through the apostle John. “I test and correct those whom I love” (Rev 3:19). St Paul writes, “the Lord corrects the one he loves” (Heb 12:6). The father who loves his son, reprimands him. St Augustine also says, “The one who does not correct, does not guide.”
There is no doubt that correction is an act of true charity, love. However, since this does not depend only upon the sentiments and the maternal instincts of the superior, but also upon the acceptance by the religious sisters, it must be carried out with caution. That is why we need to remind ourselves, ‘Do not be quick to speak.’ It helps us to correct the others with charity and prudence. Correction always causes pain, and therefore caution is needed to render it less painful, more fruitful and beneficial.
‘Slow to anger.’
Here is another virtue that is greatly needed in a superior. “Learn from me because I am meek” (Mt 11:29).
Water extinguishes fire, similarly, the memory of our own mistakes diminishes our anger.