Admonishing a sinner

To admonish the sinner begins by admonishing one’s self. After all, we are all sinners. Humility is the virtue by which we recognize our sinfulness and our weakness, thus realizing that we ourselves depend upon God’s mercy to forgive us our sins and upon His grace to strengthen us to resist sin in the future. Without humility, we will not admit our sins honestly to ourselves and, when needed, to others also. Since human weakness is always present due to Original Sin and our own past personal sins, we know that we must struggle each day to resist evil and do good. The Bible says that even the just person falls seven times a day. (cf. Prov. 24:16) In biblical terms a “just person” meant a holy person. So even the saints had their sins and needed to remind themselves constantly of the danger of sinning. They needed always to beware of falling again. Jesus Himself told the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into the test.” (Mt. 26:41) When we “pray,” we strengthen ourselves to resist sin by asking God for the grace to carry out His Will every day. When we “watch,” we are vigilant to avoid the occasions of sin, namely, any person, place, or thing that would lead us to offend God.

To admonish others effectively, there are two other points we must keep in mind. First, we must practice what we preach. In other words, we have to be working at striving for holiness and avoiding sin in our own lives if we expect others to do the same. It has been said, “I can’t hear what you are saying because of what you are doing!” The approach, “Do what I say and not what I do,” will never work. The second point is to avoid the terrible attitude of self righteousness with its judgmental view of others. Self-righteousness puts a person into the mindset of the Pharisees who were quick to condemn sin in others but overlooked it in themselves. This was the point of Jesus’ challenge to them in the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery. (cf. Jn 8:1 ff) They were quite ready to condemn this woman for her sin. In fact, they challenged Jesus on whether she should be stoned or not, according to the law of Moses. Jesus did not say “yes,” nor did He say “no.” He simply challenged them in return: “Let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.” Then the Gospel tells us He began to write on the ground. Whatever He wrote apparently referred to each individual’s sins because as each one saw what Our Blessed Lord wrote, they dropped their stones and walked away. To carry out this work of admonishing the sinner, a person must have a sense of compassion for human weakness, and we can only learn that by recognizing our own weaknesses. If we fail to do so, we will be throwing a lot of stones at other people, and this would not be the Gospel attitude.