Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
What is quite intriguing is the fact that Jesus gives to each one of you, lay people, the authority which he had given to Peter and to the other 10 and, consequently, to bishops and priests ever since. (Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23)
First, this means that, in Christ, heaven and earth are inseparably united; that humanity is given to God and divinity to human beings. Christ as Head of the Body is forever one entity with his Body, the Church.
Secondly, it signifies that, although in different capacities, within the Body of Christ, within the Church, we are all expected to do our part to uproot evil and sin and to bring the Body to full stature, to love’s perfection and to the glory that is already of its Head.
In this context, one of my roles and of any other man invested with ministerial priesthood is the one described by our reading from Ezekiel. (33:7-9)
To save myself I must relate to the wicked what the Lord tells me to say as a warning to them. But before anything else, I ought to point out something very shocking: in the eyes of God, we are all wicked!
If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7:11)
It is not that God loves us any less but that he hates, sin, any sin however small, so much that, in his eyes, we are all wicked. Jesus is not excluding anyone from this disturbing label. It has been my experience of close to 52 years of ministerial priesthood that those commonly referred to as “sinners,” once touched by God’s Word and by his grace, are much more receptive of my warnings than those who pray daily for the conversion of sinners but fail to put their names on that list.
Every time we recite a rosary, we request 50 times that Our Lady prays for us SINNERS. Do we mean what we say, or is it just spiritual hot air voided of sincere contrition? For us priests one of the most frustrating tasks is the one of preaching to “the choir” i.e., to those who fail to check daily where they stand before God and refuse to assess the damage which their delusion of righteousness is causing to the Body of Christ, to the Church.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were told to love Yahweh God with their whole heart, soul, and strength. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that there is a second commandment equal to the first, the commandment of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Then, with his life and in his death, Jesus proves that we can identify the purpose of our entire life with the simpler terms of the new commandment: we ought to love each other as he loved us on the cross. (cf. John 13:34)
As I mentioned earlier, this of uprooting evil and sin is a common effort that involves everyone from the Pope down to the least disciple of Christ, and across the millennia. The more sins are uprooted, the higher the intensity of love within the Body. This is done also through fraternal correction as detailed by Jesus in the gospel passage I just read to you. (cf. Matthew 18:15-17)
To be perfectly honest with you, fraternal correction is nearly impossible in most cases due to hypersensitivity stemming from our easily bruised ego and deep-seated hubris inherited through original sin. Yet we are all called to exercise fraternal correction to increase the level of love within the Body until it is all and solely love just as God is pure love.
To achieve this, we should work on a two-pronged front. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we ought to attack our pride from its roots that are invariably very deep. We ought to do so until, noticing our humble body language, someone dares to approach us and points out to us some of our flaws. Most likely, those flaws are the ones which have been bothering people around us for the longest time, until that grace-filled breaking point of their endurance. However, if we tend to be judgmental and critical besides being very sensitive, easily hurt, and prone to getting even for any little thing, we have a long struggle with pride on our hands. People around us, who have been suffering on account of our attitude and behavior, would have to see many reassuring signs before one of them might dare to correct us.
The second prong of the attack is getting to know ourselves not as we think we might be, considering how we naturally try to project ourselves in the best possible light, but truly, realistically, as we are at the present time.
Now, this two-pronged attack succeeds only if it is done through silent, daily reflection on God’s Word.
Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints, and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Of course, the Word is living and effective! It is Jesus Christ himself. And he is quite aware of what is the real cause of any ailment affecting the parts of his Body due to sin. If we truly love Jesus, if we are sincerely grieving over our sins, if we care about the well-being of the whole Body, if we want to become pure love, there is only one way: not through multiplication of words but by a silent daily confrontation with God’s Word and a concrete effort to return to the Lord of Life with perseverance and openness to his grace.