Admonish, but always with gentleness
While sitting in the living room in the home of one of my parishioners and visiting with the family, their little 2-year-old crawled over to the wall and was about to stick a small toy into an electrical outlet.
Immediately his mother jumped up, lightly tapped his hand and told him not to do that. A good mother! Sticking things into electrical outlets can have dire consequences – a child could be electrocuted.
Isn’t it strange how we will jump up immediately to protect someone from physical danger, but often will do or say nothing to protect someone from spiritual danger!
One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is that of admonishing the sinner.
The word "admonish" comes from the Latin word "monere" which means "to warn." We are often ready to warn people of physical danger, but reluctant to warn them of spiritual danger. And for obvious reasons: People don’t like to be told when they are doing something wrong! King Herod’s wife, Herodias – who was married to his brother, Philip – didn’t like it when John the Baptist admonished the king for taking his brother’s wife, and she used her daughter to demand that King Herod cut off John’s head.
Today many young couples live together without being married, but often parents are reluctant to say anything because they don’t want to offend their children. Their children may not like them. They want their children to be happy! But what about their "eternal happiness?" Isn’t that important too?
It takes courage to admonish the sinner, but do so gently. The best way to confront someone about their behavior is to name the behavior, share how it affects you and how it makes you feel. Such a statement contains no putdown or judgmental statement, it is simply a statement of fact. For example: "When you curse and swear, it really upsets me because I have a great love and reverence for the name of God or Jesus!"
With regards to the corporal work of mercy to clothe the naked, one can do this in many ways, such as contributing good used clothes that are no longer needed to community centers like the Salvation Army, where the poor can buy them at extremely low prices.
And taken together, admonishing the sinner and clothing the naked might be applied in at least one way.
During the summer months, when your children or close friends choose to wear light, sometimes scanty clothing, one can "admonish" them. "When you dress that way," one might suggest, "I worry about the ugly thoughts some people will have and I don’t want people to think of you that way."
Do be careful, however! You could lose your head!
Father Joseph Miksch is pastor of St. Isidore Parish, Columbus.