Monday, June 23, 2014

More Thoughts on Judging

I have a friend who on occasion asks questions about the Catholic faith that on the surface seem simple, but on reflection actually have fascinating implications and makes me seek a deeper understanding of an aspect of the faith. This is another one of those times.  I imagine if it were not for his questions, my faith would be shallower and so would this blog. 


He asks me about the Pope's recent sermon on judgment in light of his strong words against the Mafia this weekend: 


The Pope himself just judged the actions of the mafia and excommunicated them. He must see that as a different form of judgment? 


In general,  the whole idea of not judging is a tough one to get my head around. Clearly, there are times that we should stand up against a wrong that is being done and clearly as Christians there are times when correcting a brother or sister is a duty. So when is "judging" allowable? And what is the Pope saying? 


It's a reasonable question. Judgment is a word which is equivocal (having more than one meaning). So if a person means judgment in one way while a second hears the word with another meaning, people will get confused. 


The meanings of Judgment are: 


Judgement (also judgment) 

  ■ noun 

    1      the ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions. 

      ▶      an opinion or conclusion. 

      ▶      a decision of a law court or judge. 

Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 


So, Judgment can mean discernment on one hand, and making a ruling on the other. How does Jesus intend it to be understood? 


In the Gospel reading for today, we see Matthew 7:1-5: 


1 “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. 2 For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. 3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? 5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.  


New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 7:1–5. 


If we interpret judging in this part of the Gospel to mean "the ability to make considered conclusions" about the right and wrong of an act, then that leads to the absurd conclusion that Jesus contradicts himself (Remember Matthew 11:21 and Matthew 23:13-36 shows Jesus making some very strong denunciations of wrongdoers). He warns us to do good and avoid evil. We cannot do that without making considered conclusions about what acts are good and what acts are evil. 


So much for the modern relativist interpretation. 


But, if we consider the passage to mean "Don't think of yourself as having the authority to determine how God will ultimately sentence this man or woman, don't think you can just write off and ostracize the sinner. You have don't have the authority to judge. Instead you have the obligation to speak out so the person repents (read Ezekiel 33. God warns us that we can't be silent in the face of evil). 


So we can't write off the Catholic politicians who cause scandal. It may turn out that after we try to bring them back, they refuse us, but that doesn't free us from the obligation to try (See Ezekiel 33:7-9). The Christian has to let himself be the tool for God’s grace to reach out to the people of the world who do evil. We can’t be like Jonah in the Old Testament who took off in the opposite direction to avoid giving God’s warning to Nineveh.   


So, to use the recent denunciation of the crimes of the Mafia as an example, I see Pope Francis saying IF you do not repent, THEN you will be damned. The judging would say “This person is not repenting. Therefore he is damned.”  What Pope Francis is saying is judging in the proper sense. He's not writing off the members of this Mafia family as irredeemable. he sees them as in need of salvation and uses his authority as the Vicar of Christ to authoritatively warn them that their actions are in contradiction to the faith they belong to but ignore.   


Or consider another example. On rare occasions, we get a person who gets it in his head that it is OK to target an abortionist for murder. Abortion is wrong. Warning the abortionist that abortion is wrong is not judging in the sense that Christ condemned. Telling him or her that they can repent and turn their lives around is not judgment... 


...but deliberately targeting the individual for murder is being judgmental. It's determining that the abortionist will never change his or her ways and so it is better to kill the person than to try to convert the person. 


The existence of people like Bernard Nathanson and Abby Johnson are examples of why the killing of abortionists is wrong. We cannot know who will repent and who will not. But the reason Jesus forbids us to tear up the weeds is that we might tear up some of the wheat with them:

24 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”


New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 13:24–30.

Consider also that if Jesus meant judging in the sense of "the ability to make considered conclusions," then there would be no way to warn a person of evil. Ezekiel 33 would be nonsense. But if Jesus meant it in the sense of  "Don't presume to know the ultimate fate of these men and woman," then the Pope's actions are quite prophetic in the true sense of the word. He's warning these men and women that their actions will have consequences: IF you do not repent, THEN you will not be saved.  


The Judging condemned by Jesus removes the IF... THEN, and changes it to "You do not repent. Therefore you will not be saved. So I'm going to write you off as a loss." 


All of us have the beam in our eye where we must face the warning: IF you do not repent, THEN you will not be saved. If we do not acknowledge and deal with this beam—our own need to repent—how can we guide someone else to repent? 


Hopefully, this is shows that Pope Francis does not contradict himself when on one hand he warns the Mafia and on the other hand speaks against judging. He calls for us to intercede for the sinner as Jesus intercedes for us, but not to take God's role and condemn and carry out the sentence. 

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