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
One of the things I struggle with personally is being able to freely speak my mind regarding some issue. It could be based on my temperament but it could purely be based on the fear associated with the outcome. I naturally tend to over think things and as a result, may over think the outcome of confrontation. I am sure many people struggle with this as well. I have a very strong suspicion that in Canada they are some how indoctrinated us to be fearful to speak our minds on any issue. I could be wrong but it is just so bizarre how we are utterly afraid of speaking truth and against false doctrines, while those promoting false doctrines shout from the roof tops for all to hear without any hesitation. It may be easier for some but for me, not so much.
The passage I quoted from scripture is interesting. It states that if your brother, which I suppose is someone close to you, sins against you, go and talk to them one on one and try to resolve the issue. There are further details to this passage but I think this section is sufficient. How many of us are able to do the first step? How many of us are comfortable doing this? The answer to both questions will vary.
The following are three primary factors that I propose influence our decision to admonish someone:
- How close we are to the individual
- Our level of fear
- The pride of the one we are trying to admonish
The first factor is straightforward. For most people, we have a hard time admonishing someone we don’t know or don’t know well. You might be able to admonish a spouse or a sibling but may find it difficult to admonish someone you don’t know well, such as a stranger or an acquaintance. I imagine that for each one of us, the point at which we feel comfortable to admonish will vary by the degree of the relationship. I know that for myself, I am hesitant to admonish anyone that I don’t have a strong relationship with but find it “easier” with people I am close with. There may be others who can admonish anyone with ease! This will vary from person to person.
Regarding the second factor, some of you may find that even though you have some strong friendships or relationships, you are still unable to admonish those individuals. Why? I think this has to do with the level of fear that we have. This is a very important point. We may know someone so well and may have known them all our lives but out of fear, we are unable to admonish them. This is very challenging for many people to overcome. I think it also is dependent on the type of relationship. I find it easy to talk to my wife about this stuff but find it very difficult to talk to specific friends. It could be that a lot of our relationships are built on weak foundations. We may have never told them that we are Catholic and after years of not saying it, we are afraid to now admonish something that we have an issue with it out of fear of ruining that friendship. That is not a good reason! Someone related to me a story of how their friend loved to go shopping and spend money, but she hated it. Nevertheless, she always went shopping with her! We talked about it further and the question arose as to why she just doesn’t speak honestly, and it boiled down to fear of losing that friendship. We are doing more damage to our loved ones by not speaking of their sin and we will be held accountable for it if we fail to act on it.
The last factor is interesting. It does tie in slightly to the second factor but can be an issue all on its own. I find that when we know that someone is prideful, even if we know them well or not, we can be hesitant to admonish that person. Why? Well, for those that have tried this, what was the outcome? Did the person immediately react and start to fight back? Did they spend 30 minutes justifying their actions or blaming someone else for the issue? You get the picture. Pride is an absolutely disgusting sin to call out and people really hate when their pride is questioned. It is one of the reasons I hate the sin so much. Not only does it keep us from improving spiritually and leads us further into sin, it also causes us to despise those that are trying to help us! So it’s a double dose of disaster. It can be very tiring to deal with this individual and as a result, it may be a battle that you won’t win. When you are faced with someone who has a high level of pride, even if you admonish very gently, the person will likely lash out viciously. This is a battle that is only fruitful if the person has some sense of their condition and is actively trying to overcome pride. If their hearts are hardened, this battle likely won’t be won and perhaps this is not yours to solve. Extraordinary grace may be the only cure.
My advice? Here are some tips:
- If you need to build a level of friendship before you can aid your fellow brother or sister through admonishment, do so. As Jesus states, for anyone do this, it likely requires some level of relationship to be established first and this is fine.
- If you are struggling with fear, you may need some assistance on this. If the issue is anxiety or dealing with conflict face to face, perhaps try to bring up the issue in a letter or email. Let the person at least be AWARE and perhaps this may open the door to some growth in friendship. It may cost you your friendship and this might be okay. If the person is upset for you trying to help them, you are likely better off. Ask the help of someone you can be honest with and work together.
- If the person abounds in pride, know that your prayers and your humility will be the only cure. Pride fails miserably in the face of humility, so be mindful of that as you strive for interior perfection. As we strive for perfection, we will gain more virtue which may help us in the fight. Prayer can transform even the most hardened sinners and this may be how the battle may be won.