Fr. Glenn: To Judge Or Not To Judge … That Is The Question

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos
As I re-read my column from last week, it sounded a bit pompous. Sorry about that; judgment weakens when you procrastinate and then frantically try to meet a deadline.

Speaking of “judgment”, isn’t that one of our favorite pastimes—to make snap judgments of people … whether it be because of their clothing, their demeanor, their opinions or whatever, thus setting ourselves up as the supreme authority of what is acceptable? We disdain those of lower socio-economic status. We vilify those who dare to have different opinions than our own—especially in the realm of politics, attributing to them either stupidity or malice. The beggar on the street corner: do we disdain him not knowing the origins of his situation? Our difficult coworker? … who—unbeknownst to us—has a serious personal struggle. All sorts of other prejudices—old and new—raise their ugly heads. Yes, we tend to rely on experience with which we size persons up—yet how often have we been proven wrong in our judgments? Or even cared to know whether we were wrong? I sometimes think of Einstein—often disheveled in his appearance per photographs, and who thus may have been judged as shiftless, lazy or odd by many an unknowing passerby. Wouldn’t they have been surprised!

The Christian remembers the words of Jesus: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven … for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:36-38) St. Paul echoes that same sentiment … and yet also writes: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” (1Corinthians 6:3). So … to judge or not to judge; that is the question.

The key is that we ought not judge persons; as the old saying goes: “Today’s sinner may be tomorrow’s saint,” and, again, we Christians remember St. Paul: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4) After all, who knows all that is in a man or woman, and all the influences, which have shaped their lives and attitudes? Yet we CAN often judge actions, for some actions are always wrong—murder, child abuse, etc. And we can use reason to determine whether an action is helpful or destructive, careful to consider the other persons’ reasons/circumstances/emphases/points of view. But vilifying others out of hand (or otherwise) does no good, especially remembering the times when we ourselves have been mistaken … and being humble (and realistic) enough to consider the possibility of our being mistaken in the current case as well.

Certainly we don’t have to be naïve, especially in the responsibility of protecting the innocent; prudence, after all, is a cardinal virtue. But judgments often stem from pride, and we are called rather to the ideal of kindness and love of neighbor, extending to others the benefit of the doubt. Most of us have sufficient faults of our own without focusing on the faults—real or imagined—of others. We know that all of the great religions and philosophies center upon principles of service and humility, and so let us tap into that ancient wisdom, seeking to serve rather than to be served, doing nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility counting others better than ourselves (cf., Philippians 2:3) … for charity in humility does no wrong to the other.