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March 3, 2014

Most of us have done it and we've probably all had it done to us. Someone has something against you and, instead of talking to you directly, they report you to your superior. Today, we would call this dysfunctional communication. One might also call it a form of abuse.

Whatever you call it, such a process goes directly against the Gospel. In one of the few places where Jesus tells the apostles how to deal with a certain type of situation, he lays out in detail how to handle disputes:

"If another member of the Church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

"But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the Church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18.15-17).

Today, we erect all sorts of structures, procedures and laws to ensure that justice is done. Often we forget the most important part – the relationship with another human being. Jesus was clear – start with the person involved. Any procedure that starts somewhere else may (or may not) create an abstract justice, but certainly not a real one.

Real justice is built on one-to-one communication. A boss, for example, does not deliver a decision affecting an employee via a third party; he or she delivers it in person. Or, if the boss has a message to deliver to that employee, he or she does it in person. In both cases, the employer listens to the other – a skill that is fast becoming a lost art.

Pope Francis says, "The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction" (The Joy of the Gospel, 88).

We can utter a lot of fine words about communion, but communion is built primarily on relationships and certainly not on the assertion of one person's power over another. Decisions made out of power relationships are examples of domination, not communion.

Jesus was the expert on communion, mercy and justice. The Trinity itself is a network of relationships. Too often, Jesus' counsel on communication is ignored. When that occurs, any apparent justice that might follow is more the result of domination than of communion.