21 March 2006

Selfish Forgiveness; Selfish Outing

In today's Gospel at Holy Mass, Our Lord instructed us in forgiveness. The foundation for what He said was quite clear: the Lord God is merciful to you, and so readily forgives you your sins against Him. Also understood was this: to sin against your fellow man (particularly your brother in the faith) is to sin against God. That also Our Lord mercifully deigns to forgive. For He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy" (Ps 103.8)

Building on this foundation, St Augustine (in the portion of his homily appointed by the breviary) brought to our minds what often fuels our forgiveness; namely, not charity and love for the brother, but rather love for ourselves. In today's parlance that would be the desire to "move on" and "put it behind me" and "be done with it."

In the same way, for selfish ends (i.e., to prove ourselves right and to win the argument), we eagerly approach others to point out their faults and flaws and sins. Regrettably, with blogging, we've honed this selfish skill all the more. We are very quick to point out another's flaws not to his face, but in cyberspace; not for his benefit, but to "out" him; and not with the intent to gain him, but anonymously so that he knows not how to reply or to whom he should apologize.

The sainted bishop of Hippo suggests rather pointedly that this selfish notion of finger-pointing rather than loving correction cheapens forgiveness. Here is what I found most striking from the blessed saint's words (cast in a modern idiom), and upon which I will endeavor to meditate today.

Why should you tell your brother his fault? Is it because he pained you by trespassing against you? God forbid! For if, out of love for yourself, you tell your brother his fault, you have not done a worthy thing. But if you tell him his fault because you love him, then you have done exceedingly well.

Listen carefully to the words of the Gospel and learn whether you ought to tell your brother his fault because you love yourself or because you love him. The Lord says, "If he shall hear you, you have gained your brother." Therefore, demand of yourself that you tell your brother his fault for his benefit, so that you may gain him. If you do this, perhaps you may attain this great reward--gaining him. But if you do otherwise, perhaps he may perish.


Jon Ledetroit said...

It isn't just out of selfish desire to be right that this is done.
It is also done in response to fear; fear of words and doctrines that are foreign and perhaps false.

In public still isn't the way to go.

BTW I hope to pick up my copy of Mannermaa's book this week.

Fr John W Fenton said...


I was probably not very clear. In pointing to what bloggers often do, I was suggesting (as St Augustine does) that we check our motives. To be sure, false doctrine must be reponded to; and public statements often necessitate public refutations. However, even publicly, ought we simply to chastise and scold without the desire to "gain the brother"? Is gaining done well with a pummeling stick, with an ear toward hearing, "You really got him," and with the pride that seeks to win the argument? I think we agree that such are not charitable, godly motives.

We must never see another who shares our sinful plight as our enemy, but as a wayward brother--most especially if we swim in the same cleansing blood.

Let me know how your reading goes. It's always interesting reading a Finn writing in German with a fair amount of philosophical Latin...