It is not often we hear of priests being told off: but today, no less than God is correcting them: priests, this warning is for you….And it goes down from there. Jesus today is likewise not very subtle: do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach…. The Lord teaches us a few key things here.
First of all, that the fraternal correction of priests is important. It is a service of fraternal love to them. How does God correct the clergy? Partly through other clergy – my parish priests pull me up on things, and I pull them up. It’s part of caring about the other, what happens to him, and of course the effect they have on others too. Obviously if we were to have a go at the other, that is not love. But, on the other hand, to refuse to ever correct a brother priest is a real lack of fraternal love, as well as being a lack of wisdom and courage. And its a joy as a priest to have brothers who encourage me, correct me, and inspire me to live more like a holy priest.
But of course priests aren’t just corrected by priests: contrary to the myth, our lay brothers and sisters can and have the responsibility to fraternally correct the clergy when necessary. And the Church defends that right: as canon 212 highlights, not only are the Christian faithful free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires, but also, According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals.
Now because it is an act of love, this means its only legit when done in a loving way. Part of this is resisting the temptation to gossip about or criticise the priest: this is not fraternal correction, but is the devil’s work, and it kills the Church. So instead speaking to the priest concerned, with patience and kindness, seeking to find out if he even knows what the issue is, why he does it, and then explaining why it is a problem for us. Part of it is also taking some responsibility for our pastors. So:- thanking them when they, occasionally, get it right; welcoming them into our home; and most important of all, praying for them every day. Because the devil hates priests, and tries to trick them, especially the temptation to be a coward. So please pray for us.
But of course, fraternal correction is not only one way. This is why canon 212 also says: Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church. So as we have a duty of love to correct our shepherds, so do our shepherds have the duty of love to correct us. Even when our pastors remind us of the hard teachings of Christ, this is not a problem. The only problem is: am I humble enough to be corrected by my brothers and sisters? This is what Jesus calls us to in the gospel: Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted. Let us bring all that stops us from being corrected to Jesus today – our insecurities, our pride, and our wounds – asking him to heal us of these, that we may be humble, and so be people who are utterly free. Amen.