“I have observed Satan falling like lightning from the sky” (Lk 10:18).
Jesus instructed the Twelve: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16).
Avoiding being like Satan, who was dispelled from heaven because of pride, and reminding the Twelve that they will be vulnerable sheep are two of Christ’s reality checks found in the New Testament. Just when we think discipleship is glorious, along comes one of Christ’s zingers aimed at bringing his apostles down to earth.
At first sight, Christ’s reality checks seem frightful and cautionary: Do not become proud or you will fall like Satan; being a shepherd is fraught with dangers. What deeper meaning is found in these reality checks? St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a profound understanding of them in his treatises on love and wisdom.
Among the qualities of love cited by St. Aquinas is fraternal correction, which at first look doesn’t seem to fit with love’s more heart-uplifting qualities such as mercy, peace, joy and beneficence.
And yet the goal of fraternal correction is extremely heartening: to help us live a more prudent, wise and orderly life. St. Isidore states that folly is the opposite of wisdom. Interestingly, “folly” is derived from the Old French word “folie,” meaning madness or stupidity. Folly stops us from understanding the causes of the good life that advance our life for the better.
Christ’s reality checks are not meant to frighten his disciples; rather they are meant to make them wise and prudent and are inspired by his love for them. Like a wise father who has a very good grasp of reality’s pros and cons and who out of love for his children desires the best for their future, so too, is this Christ’s love.
As I reflect on the fraternal correction I have received during my life and the times they brought me down to earth, I wonder about the degree of fraternal correction being practiced today in homes, schools, churches and businesses.
Fraternal correction is difficult to practice or to receive. And yet when it is offered, it gives us a shot of wisdom needed to enjoy a more orderly life.
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