Mercy Mondays

Admonishing the Sinner

By Fr. James McIlhone | Monday, October 03, 2016

The first spiritual work of mercy, to “admonish/convert” the sinner, can be challenging at times to understand. This spiritual work finds its roots in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Paul, in Colossians, reminds us that “it is he [Christ] whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col 1:28). The first part of that reminder contains three verbs: proclaim, admonish, and teach.

Proclamation (of Christ and God’s gracious deeds in Christ) is the work of the missionary preacher. In turn, that work of proclaiming is then carried out through both teaching and admonishing. The teaching instructs us on Christ and His mission. Admonition then has to do with setting our minds in proper order, putting things right. Thus, in this spiritual work of mercy we are to first put ourselves in right order and then urge one another to do the same.

This encouraging the other to put themselves in “right order” can be accomplished in two ways: either through direct contact, pointing the error of ways to a brother or sister in a non-judgmental manner and emphasizing the good that is within the person; or, in an indirect manner, through one’s own life, demonstrating what the appropriate way of life in Christ should be.

A similar idea is found in the Book of Sirach in the Old Testament. The author is speaking of the travails of “mortals” – our travail on this earth. In all that we do, the Lord remains patient with us, and pours out his mercy upon us (Sir 18:11). Because the Lord is merciful and compassionate to us, we are then called to be merciful and compassionate toward our neighbor.

In Sirach, similar to Paul, mercy and compassion takes the form of reproving, admonishing, and teaching, i.e. turning the sinner who wanders back to the true way (Sir 18:13-14). In the next chapter, the author, Ben Sira, gives a practical example of how this admonition works, “Admonish your friend—he may not have done it; and if he did, that he might not do it again. Admonish your neighbor—he may not have said it; and if he did, that he many not say it again” (Sir 19:13-14).

Thus, in this work of mercy, we are called to help our brothers and sisters who we see might be straying get back on the right track, either through directly pointing out their missteps to them, or by giving them an example in how we live.

Mercy Challenge

Reflect on the following: How are you giving positive witness to the way of life that Christ has called us to?

Are there situations in your home, workplace, church, or neighborhood that are not in accord with the way of Christ; how can you improve them? Try and address one of those situations this week.

How can you be less judgmental in your dealings with others? How are you a conduit of the Lord’s mercy and compassion toward others?

Father James McIlhone is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Director of the Office of Biblical Formation.