Applying salutary discipline, and balancing it with necessary consolations and encouragement is never an easy task. It is possible that a parents can be too severe on their children, such that they become disheartened, and lack necessary self-esteem. But it is also possible that parents can be too lax such that their children become spoiled and lack proper self-discipline and humility. Hence Scripture seeking to balance teaching with encouragement says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4)
Pastors too in their leadership of parishes need also to find proper balance, offering kindness, consolations, and encouragement and witness to their congregation, while not failing to properly rebuke sin and warn of its consequences and of the coming judgment. And thus St Paul says, You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:11-13). Thus, like a loving Father must the priest exhort, as one who teaches, wants and expects the best for his flock, but also as one who loves them.
It is hard to argue that we have the balance right in the Church today. Correction and rebuke, according to what most Catholics report, is seldom a feature of preaching today. And where this is the case it is hard to argue that the priest is acting like a father. For a father would see how sin can threaten the future of his children and in love he will correct, being willing to upset his child to prevent something worse. Yet in some places there are also priests who teach and preach as if trying to win an argument and prevail over others, than as an act of loving concern, and perhaps he will be unnecessarily harsh.
In families too the trend seems to lean toward being too permissive and thus the necessary balance is lost. Too many children today have become incorrigible, since they did not learn discipline when they were young. Too many are bold toward elders and have lost the humility necessary for learning and maturity. And this speaks to families where the balance between encouragement and discipline has been lost. It is also true that some children are oppressed by the other extreme and are weighed down with discouragement, poor self image and anger.
Hence balance is necessary.
St Gregory in his Pastoral Rule presents some good advice in regard to this balance. And while much of what he says is common sense, it is important to review it since common sense isn’t as common today. What he says is also excellent since he uses two very memorable images that can stay with the thoughtful priest or parent who reads it. There hear what St. Gregory has to say about addressing the wound of sin:
But often a wound is made worse by unskilled mending…in every case, care should be provided in such a way that discipline is never rigid, nor kindness lax.… Either discipline or kindness is lacking if one is ever exercised independently of the other. … This is what the scriptures teach through the Samaritan who took the half dead man to the inn and applied wine and oil to his wounds. The wine purged them and the oil soothed them.
Indeed, it is necessary that whoever direct the healing of wounds must administer with wine the bite of pain, and with oil the caress of kindness; so that what is rotten may be purged to by the wine, and what is curable may be soothed by the oil.
In short, gentleness is to be mixed with severity, a combination that will prevent the laity from becoming exasperated by excessive harshness, or relaxed by undue kindness. … Wherefore David said, “Your rod and your staff have comforted me.” (Psalm 23:4) Indeed, by the rod we are punished and by the staff we are sustained. If therefore, there is correction by the rod it, let there also be support through the staff. Let there be love that does not soften, vigor that does not exasperate, zeal that is not immoderate or uncontrolled, and kindness that spares, but not more than is befitting. Therefore justice and mercy are forge together in the art of spiritual direction. (Rule II.6)
Practical reminders to be sure, but also with the memorable images of wine and oil, rod and staff. Both are necessary, both must balance the other. There must be clarity with charity, and charity with clarity; there must be veritatem in caritate (truth in love).
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