Admonish sinners

We heard this week about the scandalous screaming of fans of Catholic Memorial High School’s basketball team on March 11. They yelled, “You killed Jesus,” at the fans and team from Newton North High School, a city with a large Jewish population. In part, the CM fans were reacting to taunts about their lack of girls at their all-boys school, but the offense they took at Newton North’s jeers in no way at all justified their stupid anti-Semitic attack.

Immediately CM’s administration admonished its students and fans about the uncharitable sin that they had committed and it seems that this terrible incident could be a springboard for growth in understanding amongst Catholic and Jewish youth in their area.

Admonishing sinners is not something which is easy to do, and yet it is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy (not that any of them are really “easy,” if done well and from the heart). 

The fact that people associated with a Catholic school would make such taunts would seem to imply that more work needs to be done to root out the sin of anti-Semitism there. This is not to say that efforts had not been made in the past, just that the underlying sin remained.

The same is true for many other sins. We make efforts through our Religious Education programs, Catholic schools, preaching, adult education programs, and Catholic media to spread the faith and our moral teachings, but it is obvious that a lot more needs to be done. Liberals and conservatives can point fingers at each others’ failings (which can also be an occasion of sin); however, we are all sinners (we ALL are guilty of killing Christ through our sins) and are all in need of admonition.

As Jesus said, “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5). We need to admonish ourselves first. Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR, has a good article on about this Spiritual Work of Mercy and he explains that this self-examination is essential. 

“To admonish others effectively, there are two other points we must keep in mind,” Father Apostoli wrote. “First, we must practice what we preach. In other words, we have to be working at striving for holiness and avoiding sin in our own lives if we expect others to do the same. The second point is to avoid the terrible attitude of self-righteousness with its judgmental view of others. Self-righteousness puts a person into the mindset of the Pharisees who were quick to condemn sin in others but overlooked it in themselves.”

Father Apostoli then mentioned last Sunday’s Gospel about Jesus and the adulteress who was brought before Him: “Then the Gospel tells us He began to write on the ground. Whatever He wrote apparently referred to each individual’s sins because as each one saw what Our Blessed Lord wrote, they dropped their stones and walked away. To carry out this work of admonishing the sinner, a person must have a sense of compassion for human weakness, and we can only learn that by recognizing our own weaknesses. If we fail to do so, we will be throwing a lot of stones at other people, and this would not be the Gospel attitude.”

What the father wrote brings to mind something often overlooked when hearing that Gospel — Jesus did love the Pharisees and He was lovingly admonishing them while writing on the ground. We focus on the main encounter of the story (Jesus’ mercy towards the woman), but Jesus’ interaction with the crowd is not irrelevant to our lives, too. Jesus did not make a big speech or verbally point out how terrible the folks in the crowd were. He just did something which spoke to their hearts and they went away. He didn’t use a “Jedi mind trick,” as in “Star Wars,” where the Jedi characters can get other people to do things that they would prefer not to do (mainly letting the Jedi escape). Jesus respected the freedom they had as images of God (they were human) and His action awakened something inside of them.

God promises us rewards if we admonish sinners. In the letter of James we are told, “If anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas 5:19-20). 

St. Paul tells us, “Even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are Spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted” (Gal 6:1). The Apostle realizes that we need to be on our guard not to fall into the sins of our acquaintances — using the power of prayer and the gift of prudence to do so.

God orders us in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel that for our own Salvation we have to admonish sinners: “When you hear a word from My mouth, you must warn them for Me. When 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. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life” (Ez 33:7-9).

Admonishing sinners takes some planning, prudence and prayer. The officials at CM truly want their students to grow in love for their Jewish neighbors; their goal is not to get people to “go underground,” saying the right things, while holding hatred in their hearts. Our goal in admonishing sinners, be they family, friends or acquaintances, is not to just “check off a box” (“I did it, too bad they rejected what I had to say”), but to walk with them, as a fellow sinner, towards Christ’s gift of mercy. 

Please check out the list of churches on page 22 where you can get The Anchor’s special Year of Mercy supplement during the Easter season, while also visiting the Doors of Mercy around the diocese.

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