home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
Posted January 20, 2006

Fraternal correction in this day and age,
and especially in our priesthood?

Father Eugene Hemrick

Believe it or not, fraternal correction, or as some label it, ‘tough love’, is one of the main attributes of love according to St. Thomas Aquinas. Other qualities include peace, joy, beneficence, and mercy.

I remember as a child my mother hitting me over the head with a broom and crying out: “This is tough love! And some day you will thank me for it!”

I would reply: “If you keep breaking brooms over my head, there won’t be a next day!”

Traditionally fraternal correction has been utilized in religious life as an aid to bolstering community spirit. Many spiritual writers see it at the basis of spiritual progress. It is an excellent catalyst for changing behaviors and making improvements.

Recently, the priests' council of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., issued a code of conduct for priests. It encouraged fraternal correction as one way of maintaining a wholesome priesthood. It strongly recommended also that priests have mentors for guidance and spiritual reinforcement. We don't hear much about fraternal correction these days. One reason is that when an adult is corrected, he or she often is made to feel like a child. People feel that their adulthood is being questioned. Because of its belittling sound, "fraternal correction" often isn't mentioned.

Another reason it isn't mentioned is that its application requires a strong constitution on the part of the person who administers it. It isn't easy to stand up to a friend and say, "You are wrong in what you are doing. Stop drinking, stop going with that person, get a better life style." Aware of our own shortcomings, we are less prone to point out another's failings.

As negative as fraternal correction may sound, its positive benefits far outweigh its negatives.

Years ago my psychology professor posed this hypothetical question: "What would happen to the quality of homilies if priests allowed their parishioners to offer them fraternal correction?"

I actually witnessed a nationally known preacher open himself up to correction after a homily. It was astonishing, and it seemed very professional to me. A group of parishioners and he went through his homily piece by piece, refining it into a masterpiece.

And too, I often wonder if we there might be many less cases of sexual abuse, alcoholism and violence in homes and our church had someone stepped up to the plate and spoke to the truth of the matter.

Few ever think of Christ in terms of fraternal correction, yet he did give his apostles tough reality checks. After they returned from experiencing the power of preaching and healing, they jubilantly related this to him. Christ loved their enthusiasm, but in that enthusiasm he also saw possible downfalls. Hence we hear him say: "Remember I saw Satan fall from heaven like thunder. The most important thing is to get your names written in the book of heaven."

“Remember you will not have a place to rest yourself, and remember you are going out like sheep among wolves!”

These are tough words. And yet, if you love a person, as Christ loved his apostles, you want the best for them. Unfortunately, the tendency in to put it off and procrastinate because it takes a strong stomach to apply. But when love is strong and ours hearts are punctured by it, it compels us to speak.

We may wince when we hear the words "fraternal correction." But my guess is that some of the best improvements we've made in life were due to it. Was it not the professor who was toughest on us we remember, and more often than not, thank years later for being tough? This holds true in all of life. A tough loving pastor often is the best mentor for a young priest. Tough loving parents often produce the best disciplined and mannered children.