By Father Eugene Hemrick
“Get that idea out of your head!”
While growing up, my mother was forever shouting out commands like this to keep me on the right track.
When I complained, she would reply, “That’s tough love. Some day you will thank me for it.” To which I replied, “If you keep beating on me, I’ll never reach that day.”
Another word for “tough love” is fraternal correction. In his treatise on charity, St. Thomas Aquinas points us to its attributes: joy, peace, mercy, beneficence, almsgiving and fraternal correction.
Fraternal correction is correcting a wrongdoer who is harming self through sinful actions, or who is detrimental to the common good.
Most of today’s unlawfulness and folly could be avoided had someone nipped it in the bud through fraternal correction. Why is it then that we seldom hear of it?
One reason is it requires humility that reminds us, “Before you correct another, correct yourself!” The pharisaical feeling we are holier than thou should never be permissible in a corrective situation.
Fraternal correction is difficult because it involves prudence: finding the right time and place so that it is well-received and fruitful. It also requires heartfelt reflection to craft it effectively.
As Christ reminds us to be gentle and meek of heart, so too are we prompted to avoid harsh words and coarseness. The maxim, “You can capture more bees with honey than vinegar,” must be kept in mind. And talking with rather than about another personalizes correction, making it easier to accept.
Fraternal correction can be rejected and it can also create animosity. Here it challenges us to know how much of a stomach we have for being patient and accepting consequences, whatever they may be.
Most important, love must be the ultimate reason behind fraternal correction. How deeply are we willing to endure its painfulness to help another get back on the right road? How intensely do we desire the new joy this creates when practiced?
My guess is all of us at one time have experienced fraternal correction. When it occurred, no doubt it hurt at first. And no doubt, looking back on it, we can truthfully say, “I needed that; it caused a necessary change in my life.”