Warn the wicked is the phrase that we hear throughout the first reading and Jesus tells us how to do that in the Gospel.
Because it is such a heavy topic, I’d like to start off with just a few jokes.
Here is the first one. You know that there have been tornado warnings that have happened in Cleveland so they are trying to find a place where they can put people. They shipped a bunch of people to Pittsburgh, to their football stadium, because they were sure that there would be no touchdown.
A senior citizen was driving down the freeway and his cell phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife’s voice urgently warning him,” My dear husband, I just heard on the news that there is a car going the wrong way on Interstate 10. Please be careful.” To which the husband said, “It’s not just one car, it’s hundreds of them.”
My grandpa tried to warn everybody that the Titanic was going to sink. When everyone just ignored him, he yelled all the more three times, “It’s going to sink.” Eventually they got irritated with him and kicked him out of the movie theater.
We hear in the first reading, “I have appointed you watchmen for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn the wicked for me.”
So, God is telling us when I reveal something to you it’s our responsibility to warn other people. Then He says, and this is where it gets even more grave, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his sins, the wicked shall die in his guilt but I will hold you responsible for his death.” Pretty strong words coming from Our Lord.
What does this mean for us in the church? We have the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is kind of a weird phrase that we would say nowadays but it is, admonish the sinner. We are supposed to admonish the sinner. Given our culture of inclusivity that really does not resonate but I want to talk about what that means. What it means to admonish the sinner.
First of all, the meaning behind the word admonish is actually to be a light, to be a guiding light that people can follow and also to bring light to those in darkness.
I want you to think about this yourself. There is probably someone in your life or multiple people in your life that may need correction on something. I don’t know about you but it’s very hard for me to do that. I don’t like having to correct people. If you are someone that loves correcting people, then stop doing that.
Saint Paul says, “I write to you not to shame you but to admonish you as my beloved children.” Paul is saying that when we admonish someone, it’s not to shame them but it is rather because we love them as our beloved children. That’s not enough because he says at the end, “Be imitators of me.” So, we have to be actually walking in the life that God calls us to do in order to admonish someone else.
We hear in the Book of Proverbs, “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you; rebuke a foolish man and he will hate you.” So, there are times where we’re going to receive different responses from different people whether they are wise or foolish.
St. John Chrysostom once said, “When you speak with anger, you ruin everything.” So, when we admonish someone, it is very important not to do so out of anger but to do so out of love. If you’re angry that is not the time to admonish them.
I like this acronym HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, tired. If you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired it is not a good time to correct somebody.
I find for myself if I’m hungry or angry, I don’t really want to say anything to anybody because I just need to eat and then I will be okay. If you are angry you have to let that anger diffuse before you correct someone. If you are lonely you need to spend time with that person or with God to kind of, come from a right place. If you are tired, take a nap before you talk to anybody about serious things.
He goes on to say, “This is true that we should speak to everybody, and the Holy Spirit does not dwell where anger is and cursed is the wrathful. Nothing wholesome can proceed where anger is issued forth.” First of all, if we are going to correct somebody, don’t do it when we’re angry. This is another saint that says that Paul is acting here like a good physician who alleviates the pain caused by the operation to remove the disease so that the sick person will be himself cured.
I just want to say that sometimes it is painful to correct somebody. It is difficult but if we really see that sin in their life is hurting them, then the best thing that we can do is lovingly help them try to remove it.
St. John Chrysostom talks about this even more. He says, “Not to speak against sins would have been impossible since they would have remained uncorrected. To have left the wound untended after having spoken would have been harsh.” Therefore, even Saint Paul, after he speaks harshly, apologizes for being severe because he wants to heal that person. When a person is told that these things are being said in love and not reproach, he will be more open to the correction So, if we can do things and not shame people but say it in love.
How do we admonish the sinner? How do we warn the wicked in a culture where everything is acceptable, anything that we say can be labeled as hate speech?
Before you criticize someone, it was once said, “Walk a mile in their shoes.” That way when you do criticize them, you’re a mile away and have their shoes.
Mother Angelica once said, “If it wasn’t for people, we could all be holy.”
There is a priest, Father Dwight Longenecker, that says, “Truth sounds like hate to those who hate truth.” So, when we tell someone the truth it may sound like hate to them even if we do it lovingly and even if we do it gently.
Withholding the truth of Catholicism would be even more uncharitable than withholding a cure for cancer. We have the cure for spiritual cancer and that is our Catholic faith. It is the Eucharist that we will receive today when we receive His Body and Blood Soul and Divinity into our heart. Jesus heals us and He wants to heal other people.
Saint Augustine says, “The greatest kindness one can render to any man is to lead him to the truth. It’s a kind thing and a loving thing to lead someone to the truth.”
So, what do we do and how do we lead someone to the truth, especially very practically. That’s where Jesus gives us in the Gospel today. He says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him alone the fault between you.” This is so important. If you need to correct somebody or have to correct somebody the most important thing is, first go to that person alone, one-on-one and talk to them. Don’t gossip to other people; don’t ask other people’s opinion just go first to that person and tell them what you are experiencing. If that person, then doesn’t seem to listen to you there’s another step that we can do. We can gather two or three like-minded people to be witnesses and sit with that person and help them to see from a bunch of other people. In AA this would be called an intervention. I like this one because if you can’t find two or three other people, you’re probably wrong about that person.
After that it says what if you take two or three other people, you meet that person, and they still are living in that life that they are living; they’re still entrenched in sin? Then it says if he refuses, go to the church. Bring that person to the priest and see if the priest can heal them either through the sacrament of Confession or through counsel.
If you’ve done all of that and only if we’ve done all of that should you let that person go. Jesus says, “Treat him as he would attack a Gentile or a tax collector.” Meaning, you’ve tried your best and you just kind of have to let them go.
I want to tie this into Grandparents Day. I know for grandparents and for parents how pained a lot of you are when your children are away from the faith or away from the church. What I would encourage you to do is don’t ever give up on them. Don’t ever give up. It’s your responsibility to continue to raise them in the faith and to continue to reach out to them and to bring them back.
There’s a priest, finally, that I want to end with. His feast day was actually Saturday and it’s Saint Peter Claver. Saint Peter Claver was a Jesuit priest and he lived on an island in the Caribbeans. There were slave trade ships coming in every day bringing thousands of slaves and St. Peter Claver noticed that as they were coming to this island of Cartagena, he noticed that they were sick; they were ill; they were half naked or naked and the ship would just drop them off and they would be in this trench of just mud. He began going out to them and started just rescuing them one by one. He would just save one after the other. He saved so many people that in the end he had baptized 300,000 people in his lifetime.
What I like about this, just to tie it in with the readings is next to his bed he carved a hole, a window, in the stone so that he could see out to the slave ships as they came in. He would fall asleep every night and if he heard anything, he would wake up and open his eyes and he would see what was happening and then he would get up and go down there.
I think it is important for all of us to kind of have that mentality: to keep our eyes always open to help somebody; to admonish the sinner which means bring light to them; to help them out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.
One other thing is RCIA is coming soon, the Right of Christian Initiation. If you have never been initiated into the faith and you would like to, if you would like to receive Communion and be a part of this church, let me know or let somebody in the office know. We would love to walk with you in this wonderful journey.
Then finally, we know that upcoming in November, one of the gravest things that we have happening in this country is that we have this choice. This ability to save some lives. Since Roe vs Wade passed many decades ago, 64 million lives have been lost and they are our responsibility.
So, let us be like the watchmen. Let us be like those people, like Saint Peter Claver, who are looking for a way to help people, who are looking for a way to bring people deeper into our faith.
And so, we must all together admonish the sinner so that we can bring people to the Healer who is Jesus Christ.