On the Balance of Kindness and Correction

As a follow-up from Sunday’s Gospel (on correcting the sinner) it is important to reflect on balancing salutary discipline with necessary consolation and encouragement—never an easy task. For example, it is possible for parents to be so severe with their children that they become disheartened and lack necessary self-esteem; but it is also possible for parents to be so lax with them that the children become spoiled and lack proper self-discipline and humility. Scripture, seeking to balance teaching with encouragement, says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

Pastors, in their leadership of parishes, also need to find proper balance, offering kindness, consolation, encouragement, and witness to their congregations, while not failing to properly rebuke sin and warn of its consequences and of the coming judgment. St. Paul says,

You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:11-13).

Like a loving Father must the priest exhort, as one who teaches and who wants and expects the best for his flock.

It is hard to argue that we have the balance right in the Church today. Correction and rebuke, according to what most Catholics report, are seldom mentioned in the pulpit. Such omission is not acting like a father; a father would see how sin threatens the future of his children and in love would correct them, being willing to upset his children to prevent something far worse. There are also priests who teach and preach as if trying to win an argument and prevail over others, rather than out of loving concern; they may be unduly harsh. Proper balance is necessary.

In families, the trend seems to be toward being overly permissive. Too many children today have become incorrigible because they did not learn discipline when they were young. Too many are bold toward their elders and have lost the humility necessary for learning and maturity. This speaks to families in which the balance between encouragement and discipline has been lost. It is also true that some children are oppressed by the other extreme and are weighed down with discouragement, poor self-image, and anger. Again, proper balance is necessary.

In his Book of Pastoral Rule, St. Gregory presents some good advice in regard to this balance. While much of what he says is common sense, it is important to review it; common sense doesn’t seem to be so common today. St. Gregory’s treatise offers memorable imagery for the thoughtful reader, whether priest or parent. Here is what he has to say about addressing the wound of sin:

But often a wound is made worse by unskilled mending … in every case, care should be provided in such a way that discipline is never rigid, nor kindness lax. … Either discipline or kindness is lacking if one is ever exercised independently of the other. … This is what the scriptures teach through the Samaritan who took the half-dead man to the inn and applied wine and oil to his wounds. The wine purged them and the oil soothed them.

Indeed, it is necessary that whoever directs the healing of wounds must administer with wine the bite of pain, and with oil the caress of kindness; so that what is rotten may be purged to by the wine, and what is curable may be soothed by the oil.

In short, gentleness is to be mixed with severity, a combination that will prevent the laity from becoming exasperated by excessive harshness, or relaxed by undue kindness. … Wherefore David said, “Your rod and your staff have comforted me” (Psalm 23:4). Indeed, by the rod we are punished and by the staff we are sustained. If, therefore, there is correction by the rod, let there also be support through the staff. Let there be love that does not soften, vigor that does not exasperate, zeal that is not immoderate or uncontrolled, and kindness that spares, but not more than is befitting. Therefore, justice and mercy are forged together in the art of spiritual direction. (Rule II.6)

These are practical reminders to be sure, but they also come with the memorable images of wine and oil, rod and staff. Both are necessary; each must balance the other. There must be clarity with charity and charity with clarity; there must be veritatem in caritate (truth in love).

4 Replies to “On the Balance of Kindness and Correction”

  1. The pulpit is for the preaching the Gospel, not for fraternal correction.

    “…the Mass is not an occasion for the preacher to address some issue completely unrelated to the liturgical celebration and its readings, or to do violence to the texts provided by the Church by twisting them to fit some preconceived idea. Nor is the homily simply an exercise in biblical exegesis. …Next, the homily is not catechetical instruction, even if catechesis is an important dimension of the homily. Finally, the time for the homily should not be taken up with the preacher’s personal witness. There is no question that people can be deeply moved by personal stories, but the homily should express the faith of the Church, and not simply the preacher’s own story. The same Spirit who inspired the Gospels and who acts in the Church also inspires the preacher to hear the faith of God’s people and to find the right way to preach at each Eucharist.” – Homiletic Directory

    1. Nick, I don’t think that Monsignor is in need of anyone coming to his defense, but after following some of your comments over the past couple of months, As a long time reader, I feel compelled to offer a response, hopefully without angering Monsignor. You are clearly very bright, but I often feel that your are either attempting to “correct” Monsignor, or offer an absolutist lecture of your own to readers like myself rather than to simply state your point of view in a way that encourages discussion. The same document that you quoting clearly states in the following paragraph that you are quoting,…..”this does not mean that topical themes, biblical exegesis, doctrinal instruction, and personal witness have no place have in preaching; indeed they can be effective elements in a good homily.” The unyielding approach of your opening comment, followed by the excerpt you posted is a bit misleading. The “all or nothing” approach seldom moves people to greater faith and lacks the very balance that Monsignor is speaking about. As a father of four and as high school catechist, my experience that the “lecture approach” almost never works. We clearly have an imbalance in the Church today. Particularly over the past three decades of my adult lifetime, when it comes to discussing sin and the consequences thereof, the pulpits are often silent. This is often true within our families as well. Peace!

      1. Granted, some pastors lack the ability to offer a meaningful homily. How one can go to a seminary for a long period of time and come out not knowing how to do this is beyond me. However, Nick’s solution above is way out of bounds. Such strident, dogmatic stances may be good in the short run but doubt they are in the long one. We are human and thus not perfect.

  2. I believe, an authentic “father,” is willing to suffer that his children might live. Correcting and exhorting today should bring prompt sufferings. An authentic father would look for what is called “delayed satisfaction” rather than instant. He would care only to a point whether his children – his parish liked him. Like a great coach he would care that at the end of the day – at the end of their life his children WIN. He would understand the hard training and discipline that is going to be necessary to prepare his children for the hard battle that is raging, focusing on the fundamentals to give his team the best chance to win. The only definitive failure is to fail to enter into the Beatific Vision – Heaven – God.

    An authentic father would care above all for his children’s salvation – that at the end of this hard battle – they make it home. Home which is nothing less than Heaven. All soldiers whose lot is to go off to a strange land and find themselves fighting for their brothers-in-arms, the man to their left and right, just want to make – it – home.

    The Gospel, the Good News, Jesus teaches us if we want to live – we have to die. If we lose our “life,” for Him we will find true Life – Jesus. If we try to save our life – we’ll end up losing it. How do we define “life?” Would our reputation, human respect, being liked be part of that? Is comfort and riches a part of that? Recall what happened to the rich man. The Way is the Way of the Cross.

    The only authentic “Unity,” we will ever find in this life will be found in the “Truth.” That truth is a sword and in the beginning (temporal – here in this life) it will often divide. It’s orientation is towards (eternal) an authentic unity. Jesus does not give us ‘peace,’ in the way that the world gives peace. That Sword – that Truth divides initially! In the movie Braveheart the question is asked: “Yes. Fight and you may die. Run and you will live, at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance to come back here as young men, and tell our enemies that they make take our lives, but they will never take our freedom?”

    The only way we are ever truly going to be “free,” in this life, is through, with, and in Jesus. The fullness of that freedom – will be found if we make it Home to Heaven. What are we willing to trade for one chance at authentic freedom?

    How much do I love you? If I love God above all things then I will obey His Commandments. If I love you out of “love for God,” (OBEDIENCE) then I will encourage, exhort, correct and pray that you also obey His Commandments. Why? Because if I have the heart and mind of Christ I “will it” – that you make it home to Heaven. What “love,” is greater than Love Himself – God? I will love you enough to be willing to suffer that you might not like me after I “love,” you. Is prudence, timing, and telling the person you purport to love in a patient and kind way involved? You bet – but what is needed most often is courage and courage like love is – a – decision.

    I believe that is a big part of how perfect love casts out all fear(make a decision). It doesn’t mean you don’t still have a “feeling,” of fear. It means you decide right here, and right now that you are going to love the Good, do the good, and live the good – WITH THE HELP of the grace of the Holy Spirit. God is infinite Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Those are convertible terms for God. Decide is the qualifying term. As many great coach type people were fond of saying; ‘You don’t have to like it – you just have to do it.’

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