Our readings today are very challenging for different groups of people. They're challenging for those who struggle with being selfish. They're challenging for those who do not wish to enter into a confrontation with those around them. In fact, they're challenging for all of us, as they challenge us to love our neighbor above ourselves.
In the second reading today, St. Paul gives us a very handy summary of most of the Ten Commandments. This summary, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” really sums up most of the moral law which we hold today, but it is not only a summary. This commandment is also an explanation for us on why we need to follow the commandments and moral law. We don't follow the commandments because we want to. We don't follow the moral law because it feels good. We are to follow the commandments and the moral law because God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
How do we do that? How can we love our neighbors as ourselves? We must not allow ourselves to become self-centered, focused solely on ourselves and what we can get out of life, making others our servants. Instead, we have to open ourselves to our neighbors, reach out to them and assist them in their needs without any concern for our own selfish desires. Our selfish desires would have us turn inward, searching for what I want, when I want it, and how I want it. When we follow the commandment to love our neighbor, we focus outward, desiring what those around need before we get what we want. We also need to treat our neighbors with respect and true Christian love, even those around us who are unwilling to reciprocate.
Respecting our neighbors and loving them as ourselves does not mean that we are to be pushovers without a backbone, allowing those around us to do whatever they want whenever it suits them. As the first reading shows, sometimes we need to challenge our neighbors' actions in order to truly love them. It is not love to allow someone to remain in error, but love of neighbor includes a desire to share the truth with those we interact with on a daily basis.
This can be very difficult in a culture, such our own, which places individualism above anything else. In our culture, the individual is primary, those around him or her is secondary. Often, when someone is trying to correct another person who has fallen into sin, they are told that they have no business butting in when it doesn't hurt anyone else. The sad fact is that all sin affects the entire community by weakening the bonds between us and by changing how we view each other.
When one is obstinate in their sin, and refuses to change after being corrected, they can become confrontational. Fortunately, Our Lord gives us an outline to handle any confrontation that can come our way when sharing the truth. An important aspect of this outline is the position of the Church as final arbiter. After confronting the person directly, then bringing two or three others to support you, the Church is brought in with the final say.
If this person still refuses to change their position after hearing the Church's teaching, there is no choice but to declare the person excommunicated from the Church. Through the process of excommunication, the Church declares that a person has, through their own actions, separated themselves from the rest of the Church. By declaring someone excommunicated, the Church is trying to make them aware of their position outside of the community and bring them back into the fold.
Sadly, there are more than a few people who persist in a excommunicated state. This is especially worrisome, as the Church has been given the power to bind and loose in Heaven as it is on earth. This means that one who has been excommunicated is at risk of incurring eternal consequences. They may have not only separated themselves from the Church through their actions, they may have also turned away from God, focusing instead on themselves and placing their opinions over the revelation of God, protected and taught by the Church.
For those of us who are in communion with the Church, we need to first of all pray for those who have left the Church. Second, we need to encourage them to return and ask forgiveness, as we all need whenever we enter into sin. Finally, we need to open ourselves to our neighbors, and truly live the Gospel message in our lives.