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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

"Then the LORD asked Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?' He answered, 'I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'" Gen. 4:9

To quickly answer Cain's question, "Yes."

The religious life was once called by a saint, "the school of love." This is because we learn how to love and look out for our brothers in a spirit of fraternal charity--which goes beyond the mere "How was your day?" Our communities, therefore, are not frat houses, wherein members come and go as they please, but fraternal families, where we look out for one another's needs, and--yes-- from time to time, correct one another in charity.

Yet, this fraternal correction needs to be examined in different light. When we use the word correction, immediately the image of punishment comes to mind. We forget that there are many positive things we have learned from being corrected. (Imagine if a mother were to let her child stick his hand into an open fire, for instance.) Instead, we have to look at today's first reading in the light of something more, something better than just correcting our brothers' faults. We have to remember that with fraternal correction also comes fraternal protection.

As Mercedarians, we follow the Rule of Saint Augustine. In it we learn what it means to truly be our brothers' keeper and to practice fraternal protection. The Rule requires us to have a personal relationship with our brothers, so as to be comfortable to go to them one-on-one before involving the superior or the community at large. Mention is made for how to correct, but also hot to look out for the needs of others. We have been called to live together for a greater purpose than just our own personal interest.

However, fraternal protection doesn't mean hiding the truth or sweeping things under a rug. If practiced genuinely, the dual sided coin of protection and correction should lead us to a deeper conversion experience--to do the more. This means a great rejection of temptation, of being responsible with what has been entrusted to us, and of having greater transparency. It also helps us to remember our boundaries and to establish safe boundaries so that our lives can be appropriately balanced and healthy.

Thus, let us think about how to live in a spirit of fraternal protection and not be afraid of correction. The spiritual life is about relationship, and in order for that relationship to grow, we sometimes have to let go of what is not necessary. Fraternal protection and corrections helps us do just that--become the persons God has created us to be.


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