Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time, September 6, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
I recently saw a short video of a kind old man who posted a picture of his beautiful wife on social media, expressing his love for his bride of over forty years. Almost immediately, the haters began to pour in, making hurtful and hateful comments about him, her, their children and their life together. Sadly, it broke the old man and he came back to social media with a fiery vengeance, saying even more hurtful things than had initially been said to him. Sadly, that’s the world in which we now find ourselves.
Social media is not bad, but oh, it can be! I rarely use Facebook, or Instagram, but I do have them and I see how people use social media to be hurtful and hateful, and this is not the Christian way. Of course, Jesus didn’t have social media, but gossip and slander, and hateful words are not new. Weak people have often spoken ill of others, “behind their back,” and it destroys people and communities. So much so, that Jesus needed to address it in his own way for his time.
The second reading from St. Paul to the Romans reminds us of our duty to love God and neighbor; it’s short and worth repeating here, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” I wonder how many commandments are broken in a single, ugly social media post.
In one post a person might cheat on God by getting in bed with the devil to hurt, cause pain, and spread violence. We kill the spirit, like the old man mentioned above, bringing sadness and loss of life. We steal their joy, their dignity, and their peace. We covet in that we want to bring someone down low, humble them, seeking the power or privilege that they seem to enjoy. And all of this is a gross violation of our duty to love our neighbor.
How often we fail to love. We covet, and kill, and steal, and commit adultery against our Lord whose only command is to love him and others above all things. I’m sad to say that social media is an incredible weapon of wickedness in our day. So much so that it is often a topic of conversation in our home, and our boys are not permitted to engage in it, as they are still in the most delicate stages of their mental, emotional, and spiritual formation. Better than social media, Jesus shows his disciples a better way–even if someone else “started it.”
Jesus teaches us to be courageous enough to talk to someone face to face, in private. Share your concern, let them know how what they said or did made you feel. Remind them of our call to love, and do not become what they are! If they refuse reason, and if your reason is true, get support. We might normally call this an intervention. Get reasonable, loving, and courageous people together to confidentially share your concern for this brother or sister.
And finally, if the person refuses your love and the love of two or three, bring the Church–the community of faith to try to bring the light of reason and truth. But if that fails still, it’s time to disassociate with that person. The church uses the term, “excommunication,” to explain a person’s removal from the community of believers. This sounds unkind, but ultimately, this person does not belong in the community, because they are themselves refusing to belong.
We are not kicking anyone out, that person is choosing by their own actions and attitudes to refuse to walk in love, to be reflective, to repent, and be reconciled to God and the community against whom he or she has sinned. In the same way, God does not “send people to hell,” but rather, people choose not to belong to the Kingdom of God, a place of love, unity, healing, and kindness. God acknowledges their choice.
Jesus is very clear, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector.” This is one of the more difficult teachings of both Jesus and the Church, but the alternative is to permissively accept people in the community to covet, steal, and kill–and good people don’t just stand around while others commit violence, pain, and suffering. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Good men and women do something–we love. It is loving to acknowledge the power of someone’s words and to make them aware of it. It is loving to do so in private and not on social media. It is loving to bring two or three or the whole community together to invite repentance and healing. And it is loving to say, “We love you and hope you return, but we cannot openly accept violence, slander, hurtfulness, and death in our community.” As St. Paul teaches, all this is for the great hope of repentance and restoration (2COR 2:4-16). Jesus desires that all would accept the invitation to love and be saved, and admonishes his disciples to be endlessly forgiving, but he does expect that we would approach and admonish in love those who are a source of pain to others–and we should. It’s not easy, but it is clearly a teaching of Jesus Christ and the Church.
A reminder that on Sept. 19 I will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate and the ordination will be livestreamed and be put up on the Diocesan YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both.