I read the online news report that a marine lance corporal was acquitted by a court martial of responsibility for the eventual suicide of a fellow marine who killed himself as a result of alleged hazing and humiliation imposed by the acquitted lance corporal. Defense attorneys argued that the physical labor and calisthenics ordered by his client, were neither excessive nor exhausting and are permitted as a disciplinary measure in marine combat zones. They note that the physical drills were imposed as a penalty for the fourth time the deceased marine had fallen asleep on duty watch, which placed his fellow marines in mortal peril. In describing the discipline meted out by the acquitted marine, the defense attorney said: "We don't let Marines slack because we care about each other."
Strangely enough, he echoed the words of Pope Benedict’s Lenten message: Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). In discussing the Christian virtue of charity, the pope calls for the use of “fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation.” Modern Christians think an “act of charity” is almost always a donation of material goods or time. The pope reminds us that there is a rich Church tradition of “admonishing sinners” as one of the spiritual works of mercy. Too often, the pope complains, Christians become conformed to the thinking of the world, rather than confronting evil and helping to transform the world in Christ.
I’m not suggesting that Church penance should include digging trenches, or performing leg-lifts with sandbags. But we must correct the impression that spiritual tepidity is the norm for the modern age, that anything we vote for is permitted, or that moral truth changes if a majority, even a vocal minority, refuse to listen. Which is more difficult: digging a trench or speaking up against evil?