instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, March 03, 2014

Open reproof is good for everyone

Here's the sentence (Leviticus 19:17b) from last Suday's first reading that stood out for me:
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.
Good advice for Catholic bloggers.

This is one of those cases where the Lectionary differs noticeably from the NABRE, which has:
Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.

The Douay-Rheims, meanwhile, makes a single sentence out of the whole verse:
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart, but reprove him openly, lest thou incur sin through him.
Hating thy brother in thy heart and openly reproving him are not as such contrary positions (by "not as such," I mean "hardly ever in practice"). Contrasting them in this way, though, the sacred author may be trying to get at the nature of just reproof, as opposed to the pepper spray in the face too commonly observed.

The open reproof commanded by God is, I propose, both revelatory and purgative. It shows what I truly think, and it purges my thought of any negative emotion or ill will.

Hating thy brother in thy heart without any sort of reproof is a sort of treachery. Brothers should love one another, and a brother may well trust that his brother loves him if he doesn't say otherwise.

We owe reproof of our brothers to our brothers to avoid duplicity. We also owe reproof of our brothers to God, Who has instructed us to correct each other. And when we've done what God commands of us, we have no standing to continue to be indignant or bitter on God's behalf. Indignation and bitterness on our own behalf is a sign of pride, which God has commanded us to overcome.

Moreover, open reproof is not only a matter of justice. Admonishing the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy, which is an act of charity. We are to love our brothers; to reprove in love is to correct them so that they may do good and not do evil. Doing evil and not doing good is good for you; "to act for the good of another" is the definition of "to love."

Love is, of course, incompatible with hate. The reproof commanded by Leviticus 19:17 is incompatible with hate, so we need to ensure our reproof is loving. You can model the whole process with the following steps, at each of which love for our brother should be at work:
  1. Observe your brother's behavior, without imputing unproven malice.
  2. Judge the behavior to be wrong, without condemning your brother.
  3. Determine that the behavior needs to be corrected, for the good of your brother.
  4. Evaluate the available means to correcting the behavior, always keeping that charitable end in mind (rather than, say, the therapeutic release of yelling at the bozo).
  5. Select the most prudent means available.
  6. Engage in the charitable, just, prudent act of reproof.
If you go through the whole process in love, there should be no residue of anger or hatred in your heart once you've reproved your brother, because you will have actively worked to uproot any anger or hatred that you discovered as you went through the process.