23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A

Posted on September 8, 2023 View all Gospel Reflection

On the backside of a one-dollar bill, we are reminded that we are being watched; that eye on top of a pyramid is officially called “the eye of providence: God’s watchful eye.”

Although the masons, still today a forbidden group for Catholics to join, adopted the image, the eye was actually added by an engraver who wasn’t a Mason, and the founding fathers wanted the country to last as long as the pyramids.1

The eye reminds us to never forget that God always was watching what we did and would know when we did something wrong.

A Protestant minister, Leonard Sweet, said that an elderly woman in his congregation set him straight about the all-seeing eye of God.

“You’re all wrong about what that means, Dr. Sweet.”

“Really?” he said. “What do you think it means?”

“It’s not that God’s eye is on you, waiting for you to slip up,” she corrected him. “God’s eye is on you because God loves you so much God just can’t take his eyes off you!”2

Charity or love is the motivation behind Jesus’ teaching on Fraternal Correction, “If your brother sins against you.” However, it is not limited to a personal offense, it extends to whatever serious offense comes to a person’s notice.3

e.g., a daughter or friend is engaging in premarital sex with her boyfriend, and also with her second boyfriend, who eventually becomes her husband, but that marriage ended in divorce. We might note that the relationships did not develop with great integrity. Intimacy outside of marriage tends toward utilitarianism and subverts the importance of developing a relationship in dating. Fraternal correction about the mortal sin of fornication might have averted a failed marriage by chaste dating.

By baptism, we are prophets or watchman, much like the Lord God reminds Ezekiel in our First Reading, which teaches the same as the original Catholic Encyclopedia does; namely, (in part): that one must give fraternal correction for serious offenses under pain of mortal sin when: (1) the sin to be corrected or prevented is grievous; (2) The sinner will not likely repent on his or her own; (3) There is a well-founded expectation that the admonition will be heeded; (4) There is no one else who will do this task of fraternal correction.

(5) The fifth condition is there is no special trouble or disadvantage accruing to the reformer as a result of his zeal. However, even if the five conditions are not met, one may proceed, as the Spirit leads. St. Augustine warns: “You do worse by keeping silent than he does by sinning.” Consider too that St. John the Baptist corrected Herod for adultery and it cost JB much special trouble or disadvantage as he was thrown into prison and later beheaded.

Generally, for venial sins or lighter sins, one does not practice fraternal correction unless one is a parent or a religious superior or giving formation to others. Proverbs 24:16, speaking of venial sins, begins with, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”

Fraternal correction is a two-way street. Otherwise, the corrected person may, in turn, correct you and say, “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it!” St. Augustine recommends an examination of conscience “…let us be mindful of our shared weakness, so that mercy, and not animosity, precedes the correction we give.”

Jesus teaches that fraternal correction is not a judgment but mutual fraternal help, given first “one-on-one, in private,” in prudence as Galatians 6:1 advises, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

1. Nancy Marshall-Genzer, “That creepy eye on the back of the dollar bill,” Live on Stage website, Mar 3, 2014

2. Leonard Sweet, Someone to Watch over Me, Sermons.com

3. Father Kenneth Doyle, Why one should engage in fraternal correction, The Catholic Virginian, February 7, 2022