Bernardo M. Villegas
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Correcting Friends

           Do you have a relative or friend who is a mother prone to nag her husband and children to death?  Or a husband who is fooling around with other women?  Or a professional colleague who is doctoring the books of his business or doing insider trading?  Or a classmate who is the butt of jokes because of the foul odor emitting from his or body?  Or a close friend who has not gone to the Sacrament of Confession for years?  If so, have you ever had the guts to tell him or her in private and in an intimate conversation about the need to correct the harmful habit or behavior?  If not, you are a lousy friend and a very poor Christian.

          Before Easter, you can still have the chance to respond to the plea of the Holy Father to practice the ancient Christian custom of correcting friends, or "fraternal correction."  As early as November last year, Pope Benedict XIV already alerted all Christians about how to prepare for the ongoing Lenten season.  In that message, the Pope laments:  "Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life which I believe has been quite forgotten:  fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation.  Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.  This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny."

          There are certain cultures such as those in the United Kingdom, India, Singapore or even in the United States, in which individuals do not mince words or pull punches when they have to correct errant behavior of people around them.  People can be direct and at times can make corrections which could hurt the offending persons.  Generally, though, it is in these cultures that

there is no delay in pointing out to persons what they can improve in their individual or collective lives.  I still remember the great service that Mentor Minister Lee Kuan Yew did to the whole Filipino nation by pointing out in a public forum in Manila how harmful the former PLDT monopoly had been to us consumers when he remarked (in the presence of the Chairman of PLDT then:  "I understand that 98 percent of you Filipinos are waiting for your telephone lines and the remaining 2 percent are waiting for the dial tone."  That public fraternal correction to PLDT motivated our leaders then to deregulate the telecom industry.  Today, we have one of the better telecom systems in the ASEAN region.  We wouldn't be Number One in voice BPO services if we did not have all the broad band needed by such a service.

          Unfortunately, Philippine culture does not encourage such forthright behavior.  We are so afraid of offending others that we fail to gather the courage to correct errant behavior even if our lives depended on it.  The Christian virtue of charity should be the antidote to this cultural handicap.  As the Pope writes:  "It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity.  We must not remain silent before evil.  I am thinking of all those Christians who out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness." 

          As the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, reminded his flock in his March 2012 Letter, St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, tirelessly exhorted Christians about the obligation of making fraternal correction.  In the book The Forge, St. Josemaria wrote:  "Receiving one (fraternal correction) hurts, because it is hard to humble oneself, at least to begin with.  But making a fraternal correction is always hard.  Everyone knows this."   In the same book, he added:  "You may find it hard, for it's easier to be inhibited.  It's easier!  But it's not supernatural.  And you will have to render an account to God for such omissions."

          Before making a fraternal correction, it would be prudent to first consider the matter in the presence of God, asking Him for help so that you would be able to phrase the correction in a manner that does not hurt and that shows manifestly that your only intention is his or her good, both human and supernatural.   It does not matter if his or her instinctive reaction is to tell you that "It's not of your business."  Don't worry, the person corrected will sooner or later come to his or her senses.  He or she will realize that, since you made the correction completely in private, with no public to humiliate him or her, you demonstrated that you are a true friend, deeply concerned for his or her welfare.  He or she may not change immediately, especially if the habit is deeply rooted.  But your gesture of fraternal charity will surely be one of the strongest motivations for him or her to amend his or her life.  Just think of the great good that Nathan the Prophet did to King David by pointing out to him the great evil he had done, committing adultery with Batsheba and murdering her husband Urias.  Thanks to the courage of Nathan, David could still amend his life and is considered one of the greatest saints of the Old Testament.  For comments, my email address is