There was a man who, for much of his life, gave little thought to God or his faith. However, little by little, he felt in his heart that there was something missing and that he should start going back to church. He also knew that the first step would be to go to confession.
Though he hadn’t been in over twenty years, he found the courage to go before Mass one Sunday afternoon. At first, he felt awkward. After so long away from the sacrament, he couldn’t remember his prayers or what to do, but the priest kindly helped him through it.
In the course of their discussion, he admitted that he and his wife had not been married in the Church and that their children had not been baptized. The priest explained to him as gently as possible but firmly what a serious sin it is for a Catholic to be married outside of the Church. He urged him to do everything possible to do the right thing, and told him that until they were married in the Church, they would not be able to receive communion.
The man felt devastated. He had gone to confession in hopes of finding some peace, but instead was told that he was living in sin. He was outraged and decided that he would never go to church again.
As time passed, however, the man reflected more on what the priest had said and discussed it with his wife. He decided to set an appointment with the deacon at his parish to try to understand why the Church did not recognize their marriage and why he couldn’t receive communion. The deacon gently explained to him God’s plan for marriage and all the graces that come from being married in the Church. He explained how in receiving communion we are receiving Jesus Himself and that our lives must be in union with His word if we are to be in communion with His Body.
It made sense to him, and he knew in his heart it was what he wanted. He and his wife discussed it and prayed together about it. They took the necessary steps to be married in the Church and to have their children baptized. Eventually, as they learned more about the Church’s teaching on marriage, they stopped using contraceptives and welcomed more children into their family. Now they work together with the deacon in their parish preparing young couples for marriage.
At first, the truth was hard to swallow. But because their minds and hearts were open, they were able to accept the reality of their situation and change their lives. Now they are experiencing countless blessings all because they overcame their fears and said “yes” to God’s plan for their lives.
Now imagine if that priest did not have the courage to tell that young man the truth. Imagine if the deacon did not love him enough to spell out to him why their lifestyle was sinful. They would have continued living just as they always had and would have missed out on the blessings God had been preparing for them.
It is hard to hear the truth, but how much harder is it for us to speak the truth to one another, to point out one another’s errors and to call each other to live the gospel in its fullness. Yet the Bible clearly teaches us that, in love, we owe it to one another to speak the truth.
God tells the prophet Ezekiel very plainly that if he fails to warn sinners that they will die because of their sins then God will hold the sinner’s death against him. These are very strong words, and we should all take them to heart. In essence, God is telling us that if we know that our neighbor is sinning and we say nothing about it, then we are partially responsible. Because we haven’t warned them, we are allowing the sin to continue. By keeping silent, we become complicit in our neighbor’s sinfulness.
Now does that mean that we go up to everyone in our families or at our work and start pointing out their sins to them? Of course not. We need to be gentle and loving in the way we approach our neighbor. We need to have a great deal of humility knowing that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy. And we have to pray very intensely before even thinking about having a discussion with someone about his or her sinful choices.
Jesus in the gospel gives us some very useful advice. He cautions us always to talk to the person alone. By speaking one on one, the person will feel less defensive and will be more open to our words. Also, it gives the person a chance to explain himself. It could be that we have misunderstood something he said or jumped to conclusions about something he had done. When the matter is cleared up, it could be that our neighbor has not sinned as we thought, and our conscience can be at peace.
However, if the person has sinned and does not want to change, Jesus tells us that we don’t have to deal with it alone. We should ask someone else to discuss it with him and then we should get the Church involved, typically by seeking help from a deacon, sister or priest. If he or she still will not listen after that, then our consciences can be in peace. We have done what we can. All that is left is to pray for the person that God will help him or her to change.
The truth very often hurts, but it can never harm us. When we accept it, we are set free to embrace all the blessings that God has in store for us. It is an act of mercy to admonish the sinner and instruct the ignorant because it gives them a chance to experience God’s mercy and all that blessings that come from living in the light of His love. And we will be helping to save our own souls in the process. Why would we want to deprive anyone of that just to be polite or out of fear of offending someone?