The first time I ever encountered the term, fraternal correction, was when I was already in the seminary. Fraternal correction is an ancient Christian practice of admonishing one’s neighbor to help reform him and prevent him from falling into sin. It is a way for us to help each other grow in holiness. As I have observed, and practiced, how it was being done in the seminary, I noticed that some ways are more effective than others. Nobody likes to be corrected, especially publicly. Sometimes, the other person is receptive to feedback, sometimes they are not. Receiving them is also an exercise in humility.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples that if a brother sins against you then the two of you should talk it out first. You have the responsibility of helping the other person realize his error. Note as well that Jesus used the word, brother, to indicate that there is an existing relationship between the two concerned. This talk should be done before bringing it up with others. Sometimes, we are tempted to consult others first to check if our assessment is correct before confronting the erring brother. Sometimes, we even let other people do the correcting for us.
I admit that in my initial years in the seminary, and even now, giving fraternal correction has been difficult for me. It is easy to point out trivial and minor mistakes, but to talk about something that needs to be reformed needs a certain level of awareness and trust between both parties. The other person will not listen to you if he does not trust you enough. In my experience, it is when I take the time to invest first in my relationship with the other brother when he becomes more open to feedback. I also need to be more aware of the manner in how I deliver them. I am thankful that the seminary gives me the opportunity to practice how to give and receive this kind of feedback, because, indeed, it needs practice and courage to know how to give an effective fraternal correction.
By: Sem. Richard Anthony Lim
Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, 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.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”