Sunday, July 29, 2012

All Things not Being Equal?

This morning, by chance, I read a masterful homily of St. Augustine in which, among other things, he distinguishes clearly between a "public reprimand" and "fraternal correction", citing the Gospel basis for utmost discretion when it comes to fraternal correction:

"Let’s act like that, because that’s how we should act, not only when someone sins against us, but also when anybody’s sin is unknown to someone else. We should rebuke privately, censure privately, and not betray people by wishing to censure them publicly. What we are wanting to do is to rebuke and correct; what if some enemy of theirs wants to hear about something he can punish? A bishop, for example, knows someone or other is a murderer, and nobody else knows he is. I want to rebuke him publicly, while you are looking for a chance to bring an indictment. Well of course, I will neither give him away, nor ignore his sin. I will rebuke him privately, set God’s judgment before his eyes, terrify his bloodstained conscience, try to persuade him to repent. That is the kind of Christian charity with which we should all be equipped." (Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (pp. 133-134). New City Press. Kindle Edition.)

The great father and doctor of the Church from Hippo in North Africa sees it right to publicly denounce behavior, but argues generally against public denunciations of the one who so behaves. Apart from the exceptional clarity of his words, it would be hard to find novelty in the teaching of the great saint. St. Augustine states quite clearly that a bishop does not necessarily fulfill his shepherding task by means of public denunciation of sinners; he must teach what is right and wrong in principle, while correcting the sinner or wrongdoer in private, face to face. The Bishop of Hippo was hitting hard against the sin/crime of adultery. Maybe a pamphlet should be made of this particular sermon and pressed into the hands of not few adults in our parishes today? All things being equal, his words are immediately and universally accessible in this case yet today.

My question is, why did St. Augustine find this approach sufficient? Why for centuries did many good and excellent bishops find this to be the route to go? We're saying more than "Hate the sin; love the sinner"! We're saying that it is the will of Christ that I not be the cause of another's scandal by reason of my public denunciation of someone whose something may not generally be known. I think I'm referring to the shock and confusion of good people, holy people, smart people, who are or were 20, 30, even 50 years older than me and who over the years, while condemning the sin, expressed honest perplexity over the public wrath directed especially toward priests guilty (seemingly) of having taken advantage of others and most particularly of children and youth for their own ends. Moral outrage over the thing itself is clearly justified and its expression, we hope, will shine light into dark corners and caste out real demons. The other side of the story would seem to include good names destroyed and prison sentences wrongly imposed. In the U.S. big money has exchanged hands, seemly to ease pain or in reparation, but more credibly in many cases for the sole purpose of punishing Church institutions for silence and complicity. I remember the old bishop who ordained me, he was at the time we spoke (just an old, retired bishop and a very young priest) already I suppose 80 years of age, some thirty years ago and not that long before his death, I remember him troubled by the rage which had begun to appear on the American scene at that point, he clearly aware of what was going on, but troubled by an approach to sin/crime which St. Augustine might have found contrary to the Gospel.

We've all read the psychology and we know the lies of the predator unwilling or unable to change his ways. Knowing too the shadow world in which much of this takes place, thinking of the story of Daniel and Susannah's virtue and how rapid the turnaround among the people once God spoke through the boy, then visiting upon wicked old men, whom they knew to be so but found no way to denounce or condemn until a child condemned them with the words of their own mouths, then how do we today justify the rage? The other day on YouTube, I happened across some old Bolshevik or Communist propaganda films denouncing the wicked ways of Czarist Russia and the complicity of the Russian Orthodox Church of such dissolute living, such hypocrisy on the backs of the poor. There was certainly some truth to what was displayed, but the object of such public (newsreel) denunciation was to destroy the establishment and take over the public square in its place. There followed under Soviet regime not only the killings and banishment to Siberia of the Old Guard, but for godless ends also the extermination under first Lenin and then Stalin of millions of those same poor now themselves vilified as impediments to the progress of the great socialist state.

I think each of us has a role to play in turning the page, in reestablishing proper measure in society and in human relations. We do not wish to be the accomplice to anyone's sin, nor the unknowing accomplices to the agendas of our world's new godless, who would only tear down rather than build and plant. Some say it is too little, but more than any other approach I get excited about all the good I see in the homeschooling movement and the vitality which it encourages in children, the first of who have now come of age and are making life choices. Chesterton and many others have argued for a smaller, familial, more interpersonal approach to building society. Being myself from relatively a small-town background, I have never ceased to marvel at how intimate and person-to-person big city neighborhoods are. Family and folk written small are indeed the building blocks not necessarily of what is great but of what is true, good and beautiful. Playing strange as most folks do today is indeed "playing" and far from real or reasonable.

We cannot live without the words of Christ; may His Gospel reign supreme!

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