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September 4, 1987     The Message
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September 4, 1987

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September 4, 1987 Commentary II I i i i Mass Readings By DON DILGER . .., Gospel for Sunday, Sept. 6, 1987 Matthew 18:15-20- Fraternal Correction The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana i i i i i i,i i Gospel of Matthew: love rather than authority should be standard This section of the Gospel is part of the fourth major discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The first such discourse was the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. The second was the Mis- sionary Discourse of chapter 10. The third was chapter 13 -- The Parable Discourse. The whole of chapter 18 is called the Sermon on the Church or Community Regulations. It is only in this chapter and in chapter 16 of Matthew that the word "Church" is used in the whole of the four-gospel literature. The chapter deals with various situations in the Church in Matthew's time which is approx- imately in the last third of the first century, This discourse began with the question, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" The answer given by Jesus is that the one who humbles himself as a child is the greatest. A child shows a dependence on and a trust in its parents as the Christian is to show dependence and trust on her Father in heaven. This answer of Jesus leads on to the question of scandal of "little ones." The little ones are no longer only the children but the ordinary Christian man and woman who are not in positions of authority in the Church. Church leaders are warn- ed not to cause scandal of these little ones by abuse of authority because the little ones have powerful friends in high places: "Their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven." Not only must they beware of giv- ing scandal to the "little ones" but Matthew next adds the parable of the lost sheep to show to what extent those in authority must go to gain back those who have gone astray. No effort is to be spared in this work. One way in which this effort is to be carried out is what has come to be called "fraternal correc- tion." This brings us to the Gospel of this Sunday. Matthew greatly expands a saying about a sinning brother which Luke also includes in his Gospel but in a much shorter form. Fraternal correction must have been an urgent question in Matthew's church -- thus the detailed regulations. Perhaps Matthew is saying that love rather than authority should be the standard in dealing with a fellow-Christian. It is not easy to correct someone else. It is far easier to go over his head to someone who has authority to correct. This avoids confrontation. Thus in a parish people complain to the pastor about another parishioner. The people complain to the bishop about the pastor. Perhaps bishops complain to the pope about a fellow- bishop. This seems like a more efficient way of do- ing things -- the appeal to authority. Such, however, is not to be the practice in the community of Jesus, Correction is first to be done very privately between the offender and the one who makes the correction. If this does not bring about the desired change then the correction is to be done with one or two witnesses present. Note that there is still no rush to public condemnation or appeal to authority. The practice of taking others along as witnesses is based on Deuteronomy 19:15 where the evidence of a single witness is not enough for a conviction. The principle is applied somewhat loosely here since it is still a private matter between fellow-Christians and not a trial as in Deuteronomy. \\; If there is still no change in the offender the matter must now be laid before the whole church assembly. It is the assembly, not just the leaders, who have the final say in Matthew's church, a bit impractical perhaps but such was the practice of that time in that particular church. This is a good way of guarding against the abuse of authority -- a matter with which Matthew was deeply concerned as can be shown from other texts in his gospel. Before making any decision the community is to gather in prayer because where Christians unite in prayer Jesus himself is with them. If, after a prayerful decision has been rendered by the assembly, the sinner still refuses o change his ways, then he is to be treated as the Jews of Mat- thew's time treated Gentiles and tax-collectors. The Gentile could not be a member of the assembly of i i ii I lll[ll I ......... II i , ..... Israelites. The tax-collector, usually a Jew who col- lected taxes for the hated Roman occupation troops, was considered a traitor to his people and was shunned as a sinner to be excluded from the assembly. An example of such a man is given in the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19. The words "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector" do not fit well into the mouth of Jesus who was visited first by Gentiles in the this Gospel, cured Gentiles, and at the end of the Gospel sent his missionaries to teach the Gentiles. This is the same Jesus who throughout the Gospels is accused of associating with tax-collectors. This saying must therefore be understood as a set or standard phrase coming out of Jewish tradition and finding its way into this Gospel. Here it means that the unrepentant sinner it to be treated as the Jews of Matthew's time treated Gentiles and tax- collectors. The prayerful decision which the assembly has reached is ratified in heaven. The words "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, etc." are similar to the words spoken to Peter in Matthew 16. Does this mean that the assembly has the same power as Peter? No, these are two different situations. In the case of Peter in chapter 16, Matthew is concerned with the teaching authority of the one who has been given the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Here in chapter 18 Matthew is concerned with the problem of excluding from the Church in certain cases. This, at least in his time, was done by the whole assembly gathered in prayer, not just by the leaders. Decision-making by the assembly is also seen at work in the Acts of the Apostles. Is the one excluded {excommunicated) by the assembly to be completely shunned? This does not seem to be the case since Matthew immediately adds the question of Peter as to how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him. But that is the gospel of the following Sm. day and must wait until next week's commentary. Other readings for Sunday, Sept. 6: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10. i:i i t Vatican Letter I I Pope's U. S. trip: increased local decision making By AGOSTINO BONe Vatican did not confirm until NC News Service July that year the pope's plan to visit in October -- leaving little VATICAN CITY (NC) -- time for consultation with the When Pope John Paul II first U.S. bishops. visited the United States in The result was a trip planned 1979, he did not give Commu- mostly by the Vatican. nion in the hand, although it, In the intervening years, was a common practice in many papal trip planning has evolved of the U.S. dioceses he visited, to allow increasing input from local bishops. The 1987 papal Nor were female ministers of trip is the result of numerous the Eucharist allowed to cross-Atlantic contacts. It in- distribute Communion at papal volved a major meeting in Masses. March of U.S. bishops and Plans for the pope's second Vatican officials to establish major pastoral visit Sept. 10-19 itineraries, themes and the call for both practices in places general framework for the visit. where they are permitted by the local bishop. The result is a trip in which a The change demonstrates a lot of decision-making was lesson inappliedcollegiality, done by the local hierarchy. The 1979 trip involved little The decisions about Comm- consultation with the local union in the hand and women bishops. At the time, papal distributing the Eucharist are trips outside Italy were still examples. Something new. Also, the Another example of local Please patronize Message advertisers! I decision-making is the thematic stress on the positive ac- complishments of U.S. Catholicism. Also, each of the nine dioceses the pope will visit has a subtheme within the overall trip theme of "Unity in the Work of Service, Building up the Body of Christ." The subthemes range from the contributions of minority groups to the church to the im- pact of Catholic social services on national life. They include the U.S. church's work in fostering ecumenism, Catholic education and the permanent diaconate. THE PRE.TRIP planning is part of a series of major col- legial events Vatican and U.S. church officials hope will im- prove their sometimes tense relations. The series began with the March 18-21 meetings at which the pope and Vatican and U.S. officials were able to exchange information and impressions about Catholic life in the United States. The immediate aim of the meeting was to set the stage so that the papal visit would be a success. But the meeting also established the framework for a longer process of improving relations between Vatican and U.S. church officials. This longer process includes the papal trip, the 1988 "ad limina" meetings between the pope and the individual U.S. bishops heading dioceses, and a follow-up summit meeting of a delegation of U.S. bishops with the pope and Vatican of- ficials. Vatican officials said that summit, proposed by the pope during the March ses- sions, is likely to take place in 1989. U.S. and Vatican officials ex- pect the pope's visit this September to foster unity because it will give Catholics of diverse views ,a central figure around which they can rally. Vatican officials also note that the United States is not the only country in which Catholics are sharply divided, They say papal travels have given the pope ample ex- perience in honing his image as the visible sign of church unity. He does it through his meetings with diverse Catholic organizations and by visiting a regional cross-section of the countries he visits. His ap- proach also has a strong col- legial dimension. The local bishop is always at the pope's side in each jurisdiction the pontiff travels to -- a sign of church unity and ministry in the diocese. Pope John Paul also holds a substantial issue-oriented meeting in each country "With the bishops' conference and concelebrates Mass with the na- tional hierarchy. During the U.S. trip, those events will take place on Sept. 16 in Los Angeles. But Vatican and U.S. church officials are also aware that a papal visit needs follow,up if it is to have long-term effect. The next step in building those relations will be the "ad limina" visits, required every five years for a bishop to report on the status of his diocese. Under Pope John Paul these have evolved into opportunities for face-to-face airings of Vatican and local church grievances. Bishops, besides meeting the pope, also have meetings with key Vatican figures to discuss specific troubles as they affect a diocese. The fact that such meetings occur for U.S. bishops during 1988 allows for immediate follow-up to the papal trip,