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Admonish sinners, Pope urges faithful in Lenten Message

February 07, 2012

In his annual Lenten Message for 2012, Pope Benedict XVI calls attention to the duty of Christians to admonish and correct one another, stressing that such fraternal correction is an important form of charity.

Lent begins this year with Ash Wednesday on February 22. The Pope’s message was released by the Vatican on February 7. The theme of the papal message is taken from the Hebrews 10:24: “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.”

To “be concerned” for others, the Pope writes, means first to “be attentive” to the activities of our neighbors. The Pope observes: “All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy.’”

This exaggerated concern with privacy, the Pope argues, is at odds with the Christian understanding that we are all brothers in Christ. “The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility toward those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God.”

“Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral, and spiritual,” the Pope continues. Citing the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the Pope reminds his readers that Christians have a duty to recognize and attend to the needs of others, particularly those who are in special need of help. That duty, the Pontiff adds, applies also to those who are in spiritual need.

Pope Benedict urges believers to recall “an aspect of the Christian life which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation.” While many people today are prepared to recognize the physical and material needs of their neighbors, he says, they are “almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility.”

The Pope then cites several passages from the Bible clearly indicating the moral obligation of Christians to admonish and rebuke sinners. “It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity,” he writes. “We must not remain silent before evil.” He continues:

I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness.

Authentic fraternal correction, the Pope cautions, should not be motivated by “a spirit of accusation or recrimination,” but by genuine love for others and concern for their welfare. He adds that Christians should be prepared to accept fraternal correction, recognizing that we are all sinners and need constant reminders and encouragement to avoid sin.

Pope Benedict writes:

This “custody” of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community!

The papal message reminds the faithful that the Church is a community, in which the welfare of one member affects the welfare of all. Being concerned for the good of others, he writes, advances the overall mission of the Church.

At a press conference held in Rome on February 7 to introduce the papal message, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, summarized the Pope’s message in his own words:

Charity teaches us that we are responsible not only for the material well being of others, but also for their moral and spiritual good.... We cannot overlook the fact that a certain ideology which exalts the rights of the individual can have the consequence of creating isolation and solitude. ... When the call to communion is denied in the name of individualism it is our humanity that suffers, deceived by the impossible mirage of a happiness obtainable alone.
The Church is moved by a sincere concern for mankind and for the world. Her activities are not moved by a desire to condemn or recriminate, but by a justice and mercy which must also have the courage to call things by their name. Only in this way can we expose the roots of evil, which continue to intrigue the mind of modern man. This task of the Church is called prophetic mission.


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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2012 9:36 AM ET USA

    Nancy Pelosi, anyone? Bishops?

  • Posted by: ColmCille - Feb. 08, 2012 4:08 AM ET USA

    To admonish sinners is a spiritual work of mercy. St. Thomas said we should also correct prelates--but publicly *only if* the faith is endangered. He also said we ought do so "not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect." (Summa 33:4) Sadly, I see very little gentleness or respect toward our bishops. We forget that though they are fallen men, they represent Christ on earth. We must admonish them since they are fellow sinners, but we must treat them as we would treat Jesus.

  • Posted by: seraphic avenger - Feb. 07, 2012 7:42 PM ET USA

    A new twist on our well-practiced (and historically false) nostrums regarding TOLERANCE and BEING JUDGMENTAL...!

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Feb. 07, 2012 7:12 PM ET USA

    Hopefully all of us who read this take it to heart, most especially bishops and priests who have pretty much abandoned preaching on the need to be supernaturally alive to get to Heaven. The highest good for all men is the Beatific Vision and lets face it, most of the people in this culture are far from heading towards that. This is a great call to arms from our Holy Father to man up and start trying to get others to take salvation seriously before it's too late. All of us need that push.