St. Augustine’s friend Alypius was drawn to the public spectacles featuring gladiators in Milan, Italy. Despite being a religious person with a great sense of justice, St. Augustine was deeply grieved that his friend seemed likely to cast away his great future.
One day, while St. Augustine was teaching in his lecture room, he had a passage in hand that contained a simile borrowed from the Circensian games. Alypius took it to himself and thought that St. Augustine would not have said it but for his sake. And what any other man would have made a ground of offense against St. Augustine, this worthy young man took as a reason for being offended at himself and for loving St. Augustine more fervently.
This situation is precisely what Jesus means when, in today’s Gospel, he says, “You have won over your brother.” Ideally, that is how fraternal correction will always go.
But we often hesitate to correct our brother.
Let’s explore some reasons why we hesitate to practice fraternal correction. Many people are conflict-averse and fear that offering correction may lead to arguments, strained relationships, or even hostility. People often worry that offering correction could damage their relationship with the person they’re addressing. Some individuals may doubt their own authority, knowledge, or ability to provide effective correction. People may worry about being seen as judgmental or critical by others. They may fear that their intentions will be misinterpreted as condescending or superior.
Individuals may be afraid that their advice will be rejected or ignored, which can be discouraging. Some may question whether their correction will positively change the person they’re addressing. People might worry that offering correction could reflect negatively on them if the person being corrected reacts defensively or negatively.
Jesus challenges us to overcome our fears and practice fraternal correction. St. Augustine comments, “Our Lord admonishes us not to overlook one another’s faults, yet not so as seeking for matter of blame, but watching what you may amend. For our rebuke should be in love, not eager to wound, but anxious to amend. If you pass it by, you are become worse than he. He by doing you a wrong hath done himself a great hurt; you slight your brother’s wound, and are more to blame for your silence than he for his ill words to you.”
To rightly understand fraternal correction we must pay attention to what St. Agustine says, “our rebuke should be in love, not eager to wound, but anxious to amend.” Indeed, fraternal correction is an act of the virtue of charity. Fraternal correction is directed towards the amendment of the sinner, and to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good.
Some practical advice for practicing fraternal correction:
1. Pray for your brother to the Lord so that He may open his heart before you talk to your brother.
2. Always come from a place of love and concern for your brother rather than from a place of anger or revenge.
3. Choose the right moment to talk. Especially avoid talking if you are angry or upset.
4. Always correct your brother in private first.
5. Be specific about what you want to correct, and avoid generalizations. Focus on the behavior or action that needs to be corrected rather than the person.
6. Offer practical solutions that can help the person improve. Be supportive and encouraging, and offer to help them if needed.
7. Set a good example by practicing what you preach. Be open to feedback yourself, and be willing to learn from others.