Nagging the Sinner
Let’s face it — most of us know someone who has a lifestyle that includes serious sin. I doubt I need to go into detail. Any of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, sloth, etc.) could become a sinful lifestyle. And as Christians, we are called to admonish someone when he or she sins. It’s one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
People often shy away from this obligation. Will the person be mad at me? Will they lash out at me with counter-criticism? Will they call me a self-righteous goody-two-shoes? Will I look like a hypocrite? Who am I to judge? These are legitimate concerns, but the soul of the sinner in question — and our own souls — are on the line if we don’t admonish the sinner!
Saving Two Souls
The Catechism tells us:
Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by…approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1868)
Likewise, God tells the prophet Ezekiel:
If I say to the wicked, you shall surely die — and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked and they still do not turn from their wickedness and evil conduct, they shall die for their sin, but you shall save your life … [If] you warn the just to avoid sin, and they do not sin, they will surely live because of the warning, and you in turn shall save your own life. (Ezekiel 3:18-19,21)
So, we cannot sit idly by and say nothing when someone we love is repeatedly sinning. Both of our eternal souls are at stake. We simply cannot throw our hands up and say, “eh, it’s their life” without trying to help.
Admonishing the Admonisher
Unfortunately, though, the act of pointing out someone else’s sins can itself be a stumbling block. When admonishing is not done carefully, a person can fall into pride, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness — and still think [s]he is doing God’s work!
In order to avoid these pitfalls, first let’s looks at the definition of admonish according to Merriam-Webster:
 to express warning or disapproval to, especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner
 to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to
The word admonish has a connotation that implies kindness and sincerity. We are not to reprimand, scold, or correct. We are to gently warn someone out of friendship and love, considering carefully what we say and how we say it.
Admonishing someone over and over again, though, is no longer admonishing — it’s nagging. Again, let’s look at the definition of nag:
 to irritate by constant scolding or urging
 badger, worry
 to find fault incessantly : complain
 to be a persistent source of annoyance or distraction
In regards to converting sinners, Jesus tells His disciples to spread the good news, and if people don’t accept it, move on. When He instructs them to shake the dust off their feet if people don’t welcome them, I believe it is just as much for the disciples as for the unwelcoming people. It is a symbol of how they must let go and carry on with their mission. They did their part.
Of course, when it comes to someone close to us — a spouse, a son, a daughter, a sibling, a close friend — admonishing once, then letting go, is much easier said than done. We may even think that we are showing we care when we bring up the same concerns over and over. More often than not, though, nagging can stir up sinful pride in both parties. The “nagger” can become bound and determined to convince the other, to win, to be that person’s savior. In turn, the “naggee” may resist changing just to avoid giving the “nagger” the satisfaction.
So what are we to do after we admonish with love and humility and nothing happens? Nag God! Jesus actually seems to encourage it in the parable of the persistent widow. As St. Ambrose said to St. Monica, “Speak less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine.” That one worked out pretty well in the end, I’d say!
Of course, not all of us can pray our loved ones into becoming Doctors of the Church. Still, even if our loved ones don’t change, our prayers are not wasted. If nothing else, they teach us to turn to God and trust Him.
Often in life, the path to holiness is in avoiding extremes. God calls us not to bury our heads in the sand in the face of sin, and also to avoid obsessing over other people’s sins. May He give us the courage, wisdom, and self-control to put this call into action!
Copyright 2019 Monica Portogallo