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“We may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen.”

" Pope Francis

The Spiritual Works of Mercy guide us to help our neighbors with their spiritual needs. Unless you enjoy finger wagging and “tsk tsking” at the faults of others, “Admonish the Sinner” is the most difficult work of mercy to appreciate. Its value lies in being properly understood.

Admonish is a negatively loaded word because we confuse it with scold and rebuke. Merriam-Webster defines admonish as  expressing warning or disapproval, especially in a gentle or earnest manner; to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin as a “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor.”

Sin is translated from the Greek word, “hamartia.” Hamartia means to miss the mark, as in archery competition. We could say that to sin is to miss the mark of loving our God and neighbor with all our hearts, with charity and justice.

So we miss the mark. What then? We teach our children to admit mistakes, learn from them, and make amends. When we sin, we follow these same steps to reconcile ourselves with God. When we misstep, skip a step or follow another path, our friends are those who guide us back.

Therefore, admonish the sinner means simply to give encouragement to the person who missed the mark of charity.

St. Dismas gave us an example. Dimas is the Good Thief whose feast day we celebrate on March 25. Crucified with Christ on Calvary, Dismas admonished the other thief who reviled Jesus and said in reply, “Have you no fear of God? You are subject to the same condemnation. And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

God is about restoring the broken. As disciples of Christ, we are supportive and help others find their way and correct their mistakes and together, learn to walk more closely with Christ. We do not judge.

As disciples of Christ, we speak out when we hear racist or sexist remarks because these are sins, intentional or not. The gospel of life demands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. While love does no wrong to a neighbor, racism and sexism are harmful, not loving.

We always speak of others with respect because everything is connected and genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others. “Admonish the sinner” reminds us to watch our tongues and gently to steer the disrespectful toward the light.

We are one family, brothers and sisters to each other. Admonishing the sinner guides this family to a whole and healthy relationship.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Fr. Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.