There’s a whole lot of sin all around us in our world today. As Christians, we are certainly called to refuse to participate in sin and instead to pursue holiness.
But is that enough? Is a private pursuit of holiness with the grace of God all that Christians are called to do?
Of course not. The primary mission of the Church is evangelical. That is to say, we are all called to share with others the Gospel of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Included in that by necessity is the truth about sin, because that’s what Jesus saves us from. Sin, the transgression of God’s laws, is deadly serious. It’s exactly the thing that sends a person to hell for eternity. Which means that if we love other people, we have to warn them about sin.
In fact, this responsibility is enshrined as one of the 7 spiritual works of mercy: admonish sinners.
The importance of warning others about sin was also a major theme of the Mass readings last Sunday. Here’s what we heard from the Old Testament:
“Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” (Ez. 33.7-9)
The New Testament reading gave us a blue print of how to best do this: first speaking to the person privately, then with a few others, then seeking intervention from the Church’s hierarchy – all out of loving concern to save the person.
Yes, doing this well requires prudence, and, as with all things, it must come from charity. And yes, we must soberly examine our own lives first and most of all (Matthew 7.1-5).
But remember that these concerns cut both ways: sometimes it’s very imprudent and unloving to not warn a person about sin, since sin is so destructive. It can also be a matter of justice to try to stop the sin for those who are hurt by the person’s sin.
Further, if our silence is due to cowardice or self-centered self-preservation, there’s nothing loving about that. We must be absolutely willing to suffer the social consequences, even martyrdom, for standing up for what’s right.