|If you've lived
as a Christian for longer than 20 minutes, it's almost a sure bet that
you've been admonished by that "certain type of atheist"1
about "judging others." A typical sort of scenario: you visit a blog
containing a post about something recently in the headlines. As an
example, let's say the post concerned yet another American public
school teacher caught committing statutory rape against one of her
students. You hit the comments section and post something like, "The
further away from God we get, the more we see of this sort of thing.
This woman needs to be jailed." Then comes a typical response: "Oh,
brother. Here we go again with some sky-fairy-believing idiot foisting
his morality on the rest of us. Doesn't your Bible say you're not
supposed to judge people? Hypocrite!"2
That sort of atheist bases his premise on these verses from the Gospel
according to St. Matthew, 7:1-5:
Judge not, that
you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be
judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you
again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother' s eye; and
seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy
brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in
thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own
eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother' s
In these verses, Lord Christ is telling us that we are not to judge
others' souls, and that we should focus most of all on judging
ourselves. But nowhere does He say that we are not to judge actions. In
fact, in the very next verse,
He says, "Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your
pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet,
and turning upon you, they tear you." By saying this to us, He
obviously assumes that we can and should differentiate between "swine"
and "non-swine." Further, in that very same chapter, He continues:
Beware of false
prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they
are ravening wolves.
By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth
forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A
good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring
forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit,
shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their
fruits you shall know them.
Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into
the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of My Father who is in
heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say
to Me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in Thy name, and
cast out devils in Thy name, and done many miracles in Thy name?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me,
you that work iniquity. Every one therefore that heareth these My
words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his
house upon a rock, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the
winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was
founded on a rock.
And every one that heareth these My words, and doth them not,
shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand,
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they
beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.
In these verses, He distinguishes between false and true prophets,
wolves and sheep, those who produce good fruits and those who produce
bad fruits, fools and the wise. And by speaking these words to us, He
assumes that we, too, are able to make those same discernments -- those
before we make those sorts of judgments, we should examine ourselves
so that any fraternal correction we engage in is done properly.
one of the keys to understanding these verses, about which
St. John Chrysostom writes,
"What then!" say
you: "if one commit fornication, may I not say that fornication is a
bad thing, nor at all correct him that is playing the wanton?" Nay,
correct him, but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty,
but as a physician providing medicines. For neither did Christ say,
"stay not him that is sinning," but "judge not;" that is, be not bitter
in pronouncing sentence...
...His injunction therefore in these words is as follows, that he who
is chargeable with countless evil deeds, should not be a bitter censor
of other men's offenses, and especially when these are trifling. He is
not overthrowing reproof nor correction, but forbidding men to neglect
their own faults, and exult over those of other men.
Another key is differentiating between judging the actions of a fellow
sinner, and acting as if one has the authority to judge his soul.
To sin means to "miss the mark," to fail to do what is perfectly
righteous. The things that constitute sins are laid out, above all,
with the Two Great Commandments to love God and to love our neighbor,
which encompass the Ten Commandments, and the precepts of the Church.
It's typically easy to determine when someone is "missing the mark," John missed
Mass last Sunday. Rachel had sex with her boyfriend. The teenaged
Marilyn sassed her parents and threatened to kill herself. All of those
actions "miss the mark" of perfection. They are exterior
things that we can see and readily call "sins."
are a myriad of things, though, that can mitigate one's culpapbility,
one's guilt, for missing that mark -- but only God is privy
to all the information needed to determine culpability. Take the
example of the sassy teenaged Marilyn: perhaps her parents are
atheists who never taught her about the Ten Commandments and the
importance of virtue. Maybe they're also the sort of parents who don't
affirm their children, who don't even try to understand them, who bark
orders at them, who don't listen when their children try to talk to
them about their struggles, all of which cause Marilyn to become a
depressed, angry young lady. In that light, Marilyn's sassiness and her
threat to murder herself become more understandable, and all of those
things may well mitigate her guilt for having sinned. While we can say
that Marilyn did, in fact, "miss the mark," we simply cannot know to
what degree she is culpable. Christ alone is the Judge! He alone
has the omniscience and authority to determine to whom much has been
given and, so, from whom much is required (Luke 12:48), and who
is saved and who is
not. We can only judge the exterior of a man, what he does, what he
says, and so forth, but Christ alone
determines whether that man, no
matter his exterior, is in His good graces. He knows our
upbringing, our struggles, each and every encounter with others that
have influenced us, what we've been taught, what we've failed to have
been taught, what misunderstandings we have, our genetic influences, even the physiology and
biochemistry of our
bodies that influence how we perceive things or how prone we are to
various addictions, and on and on. We are left to "love the sinner,
hate the sin," using prudence and charity when calling out a sin
committed by another -- that is, when engaging in fraternal correction
(see "Conversion of the Heart").
Or, another way of putting it is that we must "judge the sin, but not
Two Common Extremes
As I write, the human element of Holy Mother Church is in a deep state
of crisis. Our Bishops, including the present Bishop of Rome, Pope
Francis, spead confusion, being apparently unwilling to call a sin a
sin (unless, these days, it's an alleged sin against "social justice"
or leftist causes). The Novus Ordo lectionary has even been stripped of
readings that mention judgment, sin, Hell, Satan, possession, etc. (see this paper,
"The Gutting of the Gospels," in
Word .doc format for more about that).
When asked about homosexual priests, Pope Francis infamously replied
with, "Who am I to judge?", a response that, while technically accurate
in terms of his not having the authority to judge the souls of those men, lets slide the
serious issues that stem from having ordained homosexuals who should
not have been allowed into seminaries in the first place, and that led
to widespread confusion and outrage on the part of the faithful, and
rejoicing on the part of "progressives." Since then, faithful Catholics
have had to endure having the words of their own Pope thrown in their
faces when they express concern about homosexualist activists'
Now, many Bishops, Cardinals, and priests are siding with Francis's
tinkering with the presentation of the Church's teachings on marriage.
We hear of dioceses in which the "re-married" who are not living in a
state of sexual continence -- i.e., unrepentant adulterers -- are being
allowed to receive Communion. Homosexuals who consider themselves
"married" are being given a wink and a nod and full access to the
Sacraments. The arch-heretic Luther is being praised, and joint
celebrations of one of the most devastating things in the History of
the Church, the so-called "Reformation," is being treated as a
wonderful thing by the Pope himself. A large part of the human element
of the Church is caving in to the world, not wanting to be thought of
as "exclusive" or, as trite as it sounds, "uncool," and all of this is
being done in the name of "mercy." Faithful Bishops and priests fight
back or simply maintain the Faith intact and are punished for it, which brings to mind the words of Our Lady of Akita, uttered on
October 13, 1973:
The work of the
devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will
see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other bishops. The
priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres.
Churches and altars will be sacked. The Church will be full of those
who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and
consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.
This modern unwillingness to call a sin a sin is born of cowardice or
pride and greed, either born of fear of being thought of as "uncool" or
of a desire to gain wordly acclaim or rank in the Church hierarchy.
Whatever its genesis, it is evil. The faithful are being led astray,
and the Church Militant rendered powerless and banal, being put in the
position of offering little that the world doesn't already offer.
That sort of cowardice or pride is seen among lay Catholics as well. In
their desire to not "offend," many are willing to lie about or water
down Church teachings -- perhaps even to themselves.
In fact, however, Church teaching has not changed and cannot change! What was true about
sin a hundred years ago is still true today, and, sadly, Catholics must
now go out of their way to learn what the Church has always taught,
using old catechisms and Encyclicals, sometimes even having to ignore
those who've been entrusted to guide them. We must keep in mind, always, the words of St. Paul to the Galatians, as recounted in Galatians 1:8-10:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
There is a backlash against such evil, though -- a backlash that can
sometimes be just as evil. Understandably
and righteously angry about
what is happening, some Catholics overreact to such betrayals of the
Faith by lapsing into an unhealthy attitude toward obvious fellow
sinners that ignores the Truth of Christ's mercy. Some act as if they
have the power to judge souls, and many forget to examine themselves
before engaging in fraternal correction. I've also seen a good bit of
lashing out that involves scapegoating. For example, I've heard some
ugly things said about homosexuals, words that don't differentiate
between those who simply have that disorder, and those who want their
disorder normalized by society and who act on their sexual impulses.
Some lapse into a severe rigidity, being so tired of the diabolical disorientation that marks the modern West, that they come to cling to a world of "black or white" thinking. Righteous anger at what radical feminists are doing to the family, our children, and even the very idea that there are two sexes, can morph into a hyper-rigid, unjust view of what the sexes, especially women, should be allowed or disallowed to do. Righteous anger against how European people are treated can turn into vitriol against people of other races. Righteous anger at the doings of AIPAC, the ADL, and other like groups, and how the State of Israel is allowed to act with outrageous double standards and permitted too much power over the American Congress, can turn into actual anti-semitism (hatred of Jews because of their ethnicity). And so on.
Both of these extremes must be avoided. We are simply to do what Christ
tells us to do, and do it in the way He and His Church have told us to
do it, keeping in mind the Two Great
Commandments above all. We must
call out sin, but we must do it in the right way! And we must never
back down even if we are hated for it! Keep in your heart the words
from the Gospel according to St. John 15:18-20:
If the world
hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of
the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the
world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world
hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not
greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also
persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.
Offer up the sufferings
that come from your being at odds with the world. Know how
to engage in fraternal correction, honoring charity above all, and
using the virtue of prudence. Pray for strength, and keep the prayer to St. Michael on your lips. Stay
very close to Jesus and His Sacraments, and trust in Him! Trust that the gates of Hell will never prevail against His Church,
and that, in the words of St. Julian of Norwich, "all shall be well,
and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" in the end. Lord
Christ has already won this war!
1 The same sort of
aforementioned atheist is also apt to accuse
Christians of "hypocrisy" when we stumble and sin. But that isn't what
hypocrisy means. Hypocrisy involves deception -- the feigning of belief in something one
doesn't actually believe, or the pretense
of having a virtuous character that one doesn't, in fact, possess. In
the end, it's about pride and/or greed, about presenting a false
persona to the world, a vision of one's self that isn't true, all for
the cause of some earthly gain, such as the admiration of others. I've
yet to meet a Christian who claims to be perfect, however.
it rather convenient for someone with no moral standards to accuse of
"hypocrisy" those who do, but who, being human, sometimes fail to live
up to them, needing to repent and to resolve to sin no more? Even if it
"hypocritical" to, say, believe that murder is wrong and to then
commit a murder out of passion -- for example, after returning home and
finding one's spouse sexually in
flagrante delicto with another -- I'd rather live in a world of
such "hypocrites" than in one in which moral standards have been thrown
2 There's another problem with how the
typical American atheist, having grown up in a predominantly Protestant
country, deals with trying to beat down Catholics: he's liable to base
his arguments on the sola scriptura
premise that Protestants hold to. But we Catholics don't understand our
religion based on "the Bible alone"; we also have Sacred Tradition and
the Magisterium as bases of authority. I've experienced, seemingly
countless times, this sort of accusation hurled at me: "Hypocrite!
You hate homosexuals probably because Leviticus says, 'If any one
lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination, let
them be put to death: their blood be upon them.' But you eat shellfish,
I bet, right? Your Bible says that's not allowed, though! Read the rest
of Leviticus, idiot! Hypocrite!"
Well, first of all, being against normalizing homosexuality and the
condoning of homosexual acts doesn't mean I "hate homosexuals," of
course, but the greater point is that this type of atheist might be
able to pull that sort of thing off on a Protestant, but we Catholics
know that the Old Testament laws have been fulfilled. Further, and more importantly, we simply don't
treat Sacred Scripture as the only source of authority. Nor do we treat
it as a book whose every word we, as individuals, need to come to
conclusions about on our own. We also don't believe that every word in
Scripture must be obeyed simply because it's written down. We know that
some Books are important in terms of History and prophecy, that some
books are to be understood poetically, that types and antitypes exist,
etc., and, most of all, we know that Old Testament laws no longer apply
to Israel. The Church Fathers and the Magisterium show us how
to read and understand Scripture, which is why we don't see St.
Luke's mention of Mary's "firstborn" as proof that there was a
"second-born" and, ergo, Mary wasn't a virgin, as many Protestants
think. To learn how even the misunderstanding of one simple word can have a radical effect on how Mary is
understood by those who act as their own popes and magisterium, on
those who've thrown out Sacred Tradition, see the "Ever-Virgin" part of
the page about Mary in the
"For Protestants" section of this site. And then realize that that
example is just one among many, demonstrating clearly how "sola
scriptura" -- especially as a premise used by the unlearned -- leads to
theological chaos and division.