top of page

Living with Others' Faults: Sermon for Sunday, September 10th, 2023

Believe it or not, sometimes even priests do not get along. I heard an older Dominican priest tell a story about a difficulty with a brother priest. He was assigned to work on a project with a Diocesan priest (so, from the beginning, we have priests with pretty different backgrounds and ways of living their priesthood). We will call the Dominican priest Father James and the diocesan priest Father Bob. It did not go well. The whole project was filled with tensions and misunderstandings. They managed mostly to ignore them, though, and finished the project. After finishing, Father James was relieved and looked forward never to seeing the other priest again.

But Father Bob, faithful to our Lord’s injunction in the Gospel today, asked to speak to him before they parted ways. Thus ensued a very awkward conversation in which he detailed Father James’s many faults and the ways in which he had offended him and held back their progress on this important project. Father James just sat there and nodded. Father Bob was frustrated. He expected Father James to defend himself, or to resist his critiques that he was stubborn, intransigent, hard to work with, inconsiderate, narcissistic, etc. etc.

But instead, Father James just responded, “Yes, you’re right. I am like that. I’m sorry. Please pray that God will help me be different.” Father Bob was furious: “Wait, you know that you’re like that? If you know that you’re like that, why don’t you change?”

Maybe you have heard the phrase, “Knowledge is virtue.” It is wrong. Knowledge is not virtue. It takes a lot more than knowing your faults to become virtuous. St. Paul recognized that he had a serious weakness, a “thorn in the flesh,” and he repeatedly begged God to take it away from him, until the Lord spoke to him, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9, RSVCE). His knowledge did not make him virtuous. Instead, God gave him the grace of perseverance.

Sometimes a person’s faults are a thorn in his own flesh. And sometimes, his or her faults are a thorn in your flesh. There is a delicate balance to be found between the fraternal correction to which Christ calls us today and the willingness to suffer He taught us last Sunday. (“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself [and] take up his cross.”) I really cannot give you any hard and fast rules for knowing which is the right approach in every circumstance. What I can tell you with certainty is that one of the greatest sources of dissatisfaction I have seen in many people’s lives is thinking that they are going to change someone. If there is someone whose faults are a thorn in your flesh, maybe you should ask God to take away your desire to change him.

St. Paul tells us today that God’s commandments “are summed up in this saying, namely,

‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” This used to really confuse me, because I thought that we aren’t supposed to love ourselves. Self-love is one of the most dangerous spiritual vices.

The self-love that is the root of all kinds of evil, though, is disproportionate self-love, self-love that makes us neglectful of the law of charity. Authentic self-love, love that helps us see our dignity as sons and daughters of God, understands that proper love of self moves us to greater love of God and neighbor.

Most of us live with the clawing doubt that God won’t start to love you until you become a good person. I have to be a good person, so that God will love me. That is not true. God will not start to love you when you become a good person. Rather, you might actually become a good person when you really realize that God loves you. And you might actually be able to love other people, even the ones who are a thorn in your flesh, when you realize that God loves them too.

We have gotten very good at forgiving our own faults. Social theorists have documented what has become known as the “culture of the therapeutic,” in which moral structure has been replaced in our world by the Freudian tools of psychotherapy. In the culture of the therapeutic, it is not allowed to make value judgments about behaviors, and it is definitely out of bounds to believe in things being absolutely right or wrong. Our therapeutic culture might have helped us to come to grips with our own weaknesses, to move past the crippling self-criticism or self-doubt that might have otherwise been our lot – a bit like Father James’s response: “Yep, that’s me. I’m guilty of all the terrible things you say that I am.” But while we have become very good at accepting our own weaknesses, we are often not very good at accepting the weaknesses of others.

There is an essential difference between the culture of the therapeutic (which wants to resolve all human conflict into personality differences or psychological diagnosis, and categorically denies value-ridden labels like “good,” “bad,” “sinful,” or “virtuous”), and the culture of the Gospel. That difference is that the culture of the therapeutic creates unity by erasing the distinction between good and evil (“It’s how he was raised,” etc.), whereas the unity Christ calls us to is a unity that works through differences together and implies a mutual striving for holiness. It is precisely through embracing the distinction between good and evil – a line which runs not between this group of people and that group, but through every human heart – rather than eliding it through therapeutic elimination of value, that we can achieve true harmony of heart rather than the mere coexistence offered to us by the culture of the therapeutic.

Now we can understand the seeming misfit from the Liturgy of the Word today, the Responsorial Psalm. While the Old Testament lesson, the Epistle to the Romans, and the passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew all have to do with fraternal charity, Psalm 95 bids us to listen to the Lord’s voice, singing psalms to the Lord, and kneeling before Him who made us. This is real unity – kneeling before the Lord together. Common feeling or sentiment can be helpful in fostering unity, but it is not its core.

This teaches us something about the necessity of the fundamental orientation of Christian worship – it is towards God, not because we want to diminish the importance of unity as the body of Christ, but because focusing on God together is what makes true unity possible. Years after that awkward encounter between Father James and Father Bob, Father James (the one who might have been a little too comfortable with his own faults) was at a big Mass and noticed Father Bob on the other side of the vesting room, so he tried to hide behind a coat rack. But Father Bob found him and tapped him on the shoulder. “I need to apologize to you, and to thank you. Because you helped me realize that I have a lot of problems too, and that I need God’s help if I’m ever going to get any better.”

That kind of reconciliation is possible when we worship God together. For that, though, we need worship that is truly focused on God. Right worship, worship that does not primarily seek to give us the right sentimental or feeling-based responses (the culture of the therapeutic), but that puts us on our knees before almighty God together, has the power to heal division and to give you true Christian tolerance – tolerance that does not explain away moral failings, but sees them as a sign that we all really need God.

The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

10 September, A.D. MMXXIII

Image: St. Paul by Philippe Champaigne (1602-1674)

For more information on the culture of the therapeutic, see:

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman (

The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of the Faith After Freud by Philip Rieff

Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor

Or this excellent summary article:


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page