Year of Mercy - Consoling the Sinner
Friday, 03 June 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


 ‘Consoling the Sinner’

 EDITOR’S NOTE:  We offer this series of reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end on Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

By Father Gregory Fedor

           To begin this brief article, I will offer a comparison between consoling and admonishing. Most of us from a traditional Catholic upbringing are more familiar with the Spiritual Work of Mercy identified as “admonishing” the sinner. Perhaps the change in terminology to “consoling” may be quite helpful.

          To console means to alleviate or lessen the grief, sorrow, or disappointment of another. The second meaning of the verb is to give solace or comfort. To admonish means to caution, advise or counsel against something. This verb’s second meaning is to reprove or scold, usually in a mild and good-willed manner. My suspicion is that most of us associate admonishing the sinner with pointing out other people’s faults and shortcomings, and scolding them!

          All of us have sinned. Sometimes our sins are more notorious. In other cases they may be less obvious or noticeable. Either way, we are all sinners. The Good News is the merciful love of God extended through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, freely given to us so that we are no longer slaves of sin, but inspired to be brothers and sisters in the Lord. This relationship, with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with our fellow Christians, frees us from the snares of sin. It enables us to extend loving-kindness, compassion and help to, and with, one another.

          As we recognize the reality of sin, our own and that of our neighbor, the holiness and mercy of God has to be our constant point of reference. We were baptized to walk together more closely with Christ. None of us may rightly sit in the judgment seat. Remember, Jesus’ harshest words were directed against the self-righteous and the arrogant! “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). The reality of sin always involves grief, sorrow, and disappointment. The Gospel challenges us to name those attitudes, values and actions that can never lead to authentic intimacy with God and other people. The Gospel also challenges us to live and model the truly eternal life-giving attitudes, values and actions of God’s Kingdom.

          The Spiritual Work of Consoling the Sinner means being supportive with one another in finding our way. Support obviously includes identifying the traps and dangers and the missteps and mistakes along the way. Humbly sharing wisdom warnings is always more attractive and effective than being a judgmental scold!

We live in a complex world with many competing claims on our loyalties and attention. There are many ways to approach life and each way offers its own justifications. In an individualistic culture like our current one, it can be daunting to offer a vision that is both comforting and challenging. There are lots of culture warriors who really enjoy the conflict. Each side has firebrands and “certainty”! Perhaps we need to quit “trying to win,” which is based on competition, and turn rather to true fulfillment, peace, and healing through Jesus Christ, which is based on compassion. We are challenged to practice all the works of mercy, and consoling the sinner requires lots of practice! 

Father Gregory Fedor is pastor of Austintown St. Joseph Parish and dean of Mahoning County North.