September 5, 2023 at 2:43 p.m.
Sunday’s Gospel has practical advice for dealing with conflict. It tells us how to handle relationship problems among members of the Christian community. When someone sins against us, instead of gossiping about the person, instead of harboring dark thoughts about them, we should directly discuss the situation with them with the hope of reconciliation. If the sinner refuses, the Gospel tells us to bring the matter to one or two other good-willed people as impartial witnesses who can help resolve matters. If that fails, take the issue to the entire community to deal with the matter. In the event that even that fails, the Gospel says, the sinner should be excluded from the community and we should just move on.
Most of us have experienced people, or family members, who are “toxic” to us. Some of them may even have been abusive. In extreme situations, it is in our self-interest that we distance ourselves from them. We should never put ourselves in any physical danger or sustained psychological harm. However, if we’re Christians, having made our way to a safe space, we are still bound to pray for them and to pray and hope for their healing and their conversion. Though we may have been scarred by them, their destructive behavior should never conquer our hearts to make bitterness and retribution the center of our lives. Their insecurities, poor upbringing, lack of faith and destructive conduct should never overpower our souls.
Sunday’s Gospel also speaks to less extreme situations. How do we handle the slights, put-downs and neglects of family, friends and coworkers? The Gospel seems to advise “direct intervention!” It seems to advise that we should speak to those who hurt us, directly — with goodwill and with a heart open to reconciliation. (This is probably best to happen after we cool down!) If that doesn’t, or can’t work, then we have to face the fact that forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation between two people. We may have to “let go.”
The Gospel says that, in most cases, attempts at reconciliation can really work. Avoidance of good-willed confrontation can create many subtle problems — like “storing up resentments” which leads to psychological, relational and spiritual tension or passive-aggressive behaviors. Honesty and courage are virtues: they must be tempered by prudence and reason (when, where and how to speak), but simple and direct honesty is a good way to clear up many of the hurts we experience every day.
The whole process of reconciliation is complex with many emotions involved. However, with faith and prayer, the desire to live peacefully with others, and the game plan of this Sunday’s Gospel, we can do it and do it well. People do it every day, despite the mean-spiritedness we see on TV, the media and sometimes, unfortunately, in the world around us.
Father Thomas Morrette is pastor at The Catholic Community of Our Lady of Victory in Troy, Our Lady of the Snow Mission in Grafton and Christ Sun of Justice Parish in Troy. This is a reflection on Sunday’s Gospel (Sept. 10) for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.