Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments…are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Between God’s admonition to Ezekiel to keep watch against sin and St. Paul’s admonition to the people to love one another, we find the whole of Christian ethics summed up. We are called to speak the truth in love. Both truth and love are essential in our relations with one another. If we correct sinners without love, they are likely to reject our correction. Yet because of our love for them we cannot remain silent. Sin is harmful to the sinner, so we wish to spare them from that harm. The truth must be spoken and must be spoken with love.
The more sensitive the issue, the more important our love for the other person becomes. I may not have the same obligation to a stranger as I do to my brother or colleague, but I still want to give good example and speak honestly to all. We are called to be righteous without being jerks about it. God save us from cantankerous Christians! Because we love our brothers, we cannot leave them in ignorance, willful or otherwise. Yet this same love for them compels us to weigh our words carefully—to seek the right time and place to address these tough issues and to pray for God’s guidance before, during, and after our conversation. It may not be our place to correct them, but if the Holy Spirit convicts us to speak, we should do so with His love and courtesy.
I find it most helpful to couch such corrections in very personal language. For example, to an alcoholic sibling, I might say: “I’m worried about you. I see you drinking more often and in greater amounts. I am your brother, and I care about you. Is there something I can do to help you? I know you probably don’t want to hear this from me, but I had to say something. Is what I am seeing accurate? I don’t want to misjudge you, but what I am seeing scares me, and I though you ought to know that.” This kind of language (using “I” statements and reflecting what I am observing without claiming to know the whole truth) shows the other person the information I am using to make my assessment (what I have observed), repeatedly reminds them of my support and care for them, and allows them the freedom to make a well-informed choice. I cannot change their mind for them, but I can, and I must inform their decisions as best I am able. I want them to know what I know and believe, and I need to trust that they will make a good choice. Unless my obligation towards them demands direct action (if I am their parent or guardian, supervisor, or another authority over them), I have to pray and trust that God will do the rest.
Fraternal correction is not easy, nor is it often pleasant. Yet we have an obligation to one another to love our neighbors as ourselves. May we have the courage, prudence, and kindness to speak the truth in love, just as our Lord Jesus Christ does to us.