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Remedies for Individualism | Gospel of September 10

By 6 September, 2023No Comments
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Gospel according to Saint Matthew 18,15-20:

Jesus said to his disciples, «If your brother or sister has sinned against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are in private, and if he listens to you, you have won your brother. If you are not listened to, take with you one or two others so that the case may be decided by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he still refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembled Church. But if he does not listen to the Church, then regard such a one as a pagan or a publican. I say to you: whatever you bind on earth, heaven will keep bound; and whatever you unbind on earth, heaven will keep unbound.

»In like manner, I say to you: if on earth two of you are united in asking for anything, it will be granted to you by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am there among them».

Remedies for Individualism 

Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries

Rome, September 10, 2023 | XXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

Today’s Gospel text has two parts: in the first Christ speaks of what to do in the face of a person’s wrongdoing and in the second he makes a promise regarding our heavenly Father’s response to the prayer in common.

If we observe carefully, the element present in both situations is the sense of community, the absence of all individualism. Today’s hyper-individualism has often been analyzed as a plague that invades education, families, the work environment and spiritual and social life. Certainly it was Benedict XVI who most clearly showed the consequences of this attitude, from which we cannot believe we can feel free. Even advertising makes self-interested use of this tendency: “Be yourself, no matter what others say”.

Individualism makes it difficult to communicate ideas, to work together and to live together, and what Jesus tells us today in the Gospel is particularly suitable for overcoming this difficulty.

—ooOoo—

How can we convince someone we think is wrong? It is not a question here of a wrong that another person does to me, nor of an intellectual matter, but of some action opposed to the Gospel and particularly a harm to our neighbor. Undoubtedly, this is a delicate matter, for which no one can claim to have an adequate solution.

The starting point is the previous verse (14) to today’s text: Your heavenly Father does not want any of these little ones to perish. So this excludes our typical ways of reacting to an act that we consider to be an act of aggression. These reactions are not very different from those that instincts impose on animals: Fight, Flight or Freeze.

* Contrary to what one might think, the most frequent fight is not blows or raising one’s voice (which are regrettable), but criticism and backbiting, which we usually call “fact-finding” to justify ourselves. In such cases we resemble a snake injecting its venom.

* Flight is the avoidance of contact with the other person, not speaking to him, being laconic or cold when “having to talk” to him. It is to flee as a rabbit does when it senses danger.

* Freeze, like a turtle hiding under its shell, is to pretend not to feel pain or disagreement. As they say vulgarly, it is to look the other way.

These three reactions are born of our impatience (literally, “not knowing how to suffer”) and our individualism, i.e., contemplating conflicts ONLY with my own eyes; not taking into account how others see it, nor how they suggest a solution might be found.

Even more profoundly: it means not considering that God himself, as a family of three persons, cannot rejoice with the one who strays. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel: Do you think that I delight in the death of the wicked, oracle of the Lord God? But no, I prefer that he turn from his wicked conduct and live (18: 23).

The advice that Christ gives us today in speaking of the admonition of our neighbor goes head-on against individualism.

* Firstly, He speaks of the care we must take not to destroy neither the image nor the peace of a person: to call him to have a conversation alone. In this step, undoubtedly, we must take into account what He himself did with his followers: although He spoke of the bad actions committed, of the painful consequences on the neighbor, He strongly illustrated what God expected and still expects from each one, as when He explains the works of mercy.

An exaggerated adjective can cause the person admonished to withdraw into himself. A sign of trust can open the heart, perhaps not to the words we say, but sooner or later to the voice of the Holy Spirit, thus saving his life, as the First Reading says.

Today’s Second Reading gives us an important key when dealing with those who have gone astray: to love our neighbor as ourselves, which in this case implies reflecting on how I would like to be treated when I make a mistake, when I commit an error or an imprudence. Even more; I must remember how Christ has not expelled me from his side, in spite of my mistakes and my unfaithfulness; He himself invites us to remember that we have a beam in our eye when we speak of a speck in our neighbor’s eye (Lk 6: 42).

* Secondly, Christ wants us to be aware that our faults can never be “intimate”, “hidden”, “secret”, but that they have a greater effect on our neighbor than we suppose. In particular, the smallest lack of love marks us as the authors of a scandal, which may seem exaggerated, but this is confirmed by the need for two or three witnesses, or the whole community, to make me aware that I am a liar if I declare myself a disciple of Christ and offend my brother a little or a lot.

The person being admonished must perceive that he is in the presence of brothers who love him, not simply those who want to solve a problem. Every Christian is responsible for those whom God has placed close to him; in reality he must be a prophet and shepherd, capable of helping his neighbor to discover the divine will for him at that instant, at that moment of his existence, confident that the Holy Spirit neither sleeps nor waits to manifest himself. It is the opposite attitude to the perverse individualism of Cain: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Gen 4: 9).

—ooOoo—

A particularly beautiful illustration of the struggle against individualism can be found in the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). Indeed, Don Quixote was a knight-errant, that is, a lone warrior who fights against the wicked, thieves, giants and robbers, sacrificing himself for justice and usually offering his efforts to a lady to secure her love. Don Quixote, in his madness, first sets out alone, like the rest of the knights-errant, but later decides to be accompanied by Sancho, a realistic, practical and uneducated man, really the opposite of Don Quixote, who is idealistic and well read.

The story describes an endearing relationship between such disparate characters that shows how affection, cooperation and forgiveness are always possible. As our Founding Father says in his Theory of Don Quixote, there is an unexpected harmony between aristocratic reasoning and vulgar reasoning. It is a spectacular victory over individualism. Don Quixote is not a solitary hero, like so many others in literature, comics or cinema today.

In the words of Fernando Rielo: The other mythical heroes were created with material from the most abysmal solitude. Quixote is an exception: he was accompanied by Sancho, with whom he would enjoy the most compassionate, tender, disinterested and practical friendship (pg. 38).

—ooOoo—

A few weeks ago I had a happy and surprising experience. Visiting one of our communities, where each brother and sister spends the day working on a different task and in a different place, several people expressed the same and identical impression: There is such communion among them!

They are not of the same age, nor of the same nationality, nor of similar characters. Their talents are dissimilar and their sensitivities radically different in many matters… I do not believe that their activities are always perfectly organized. My reflection was: Why is their communion visible and why does it impact everyone?

The answer is found in the promise Christ makes today: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Christ converts our personal motivations into one, purifies our intentions and gives them a single direction. Otherwise, as history and daily life teaches us, true unity is impossible.

By receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, piety transforms our affection, our way of loving and gives it new horizons. This is how our Father Founder expresses it:

The gift of piety is for charity; it is tenderness, the utmost delicacy. Just as wisdom is to have attained, no longer a more or less ordinary or common doctorate before God, but the most eminent doctorate. Wisdom has its own kingdom (5 AUG 1976).

This is one of the manifestations of the presence of Christ in our midst, accomplishing once again what He had already done with His first disciples, a group of men with different ambitions, envy and fears that would have made unfeasible the enterprise that the Master proposed to them.

He reminds us that we are brothers and that Christ contemplates us, and in this way we can discover the divine will, when He binds and when He unties, when a word, an action or a thought unites or separates us, pleases God the Father or prevents Him from speaking to us. No truth that you and I can say is absolute and we must not forget that, if it does not produce peace, then it kills.

The presence of Christ among us produces the fruits seen at the moment of Jesus’ Transfiguration: Peter and his companions wanted to remain there, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It did not matter that they had not understood much, the experience of Witnessing Christ’s communion with the saints was more powerful than their understanding could reach.

_______________________________

 

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Luis CASASUS

President