St. Augustine wrote an excellent homily on 1 John 4 where he puts a choice before us.: would you rather be treated very affectionately by someone, or would you rather be severely punished by your father? Of course, I propose that is really a “trick question” because you haven’t been told about the one missing element which is whether one of the two actions is done out in true charity? Augustine says if the father is offering you correction so that you will not repeat a serious and deadly mistake, it is done out of deep love for you. But the other action, being “treated very affectionately” – suppose that caress was coming from a twisted paedophile? All of a sudden, the right choice for you to make becomes very clear!
Your private action in informing your brother about an injury or distress that he has caused you stems partly from a good sense of justice. We want things put right, in proper order. But there is a deeper element at work, which is a concern for your brother’s soul. If he does not make amends and change his behaviour, then his eternal life could be at stake. That situation almost demands that you offer private, friendly correction to your brother.
St. Paul said it best (2nd reading: Romans 13:8-10): “You must love your neighbour as yourself, for love is the only thing that cannot hurt your neighbour. First, we love our self-sacrificing Creator God; and then we love every other human being unconditionally, just like Jesus taught us. If charity is at the root of all of our actions, we know that our actions conform to the will of God.
It is no accident that Jesus called unconditional love for God and for man the two greatest commandments, and the basis for all good human actions. So, before “correcting” someone, do a quick internal check-: are the words you plan to speak done on the basis of charity? Remember: the Eucharist strengthens us in our charity, and this living charity wipes away venial sins