We have all heard differing ideas about what judgment means. Being judgmental is condescending and patronizing and altogether wrong, right? Judgmental is one of those words whose negative connotation immediately leaves people with a sense of, what else, judgment. Therefore, accusing others of being judgmental is, ironically, judgmental. Here’s why: when one has a strong conviction about morality or has a strict value system, he or she is forced to make judgments on behaviors that he or she knows within his or her heart is wrong. As Catholics who attempt to live our lives according to the Catechism and precepts of the Church, we have to make judgments every day. It is necessary to weigh decisions and manners of being up against a moral code. Unfortunately, we must analyze the behavior of others in this process. It is the finest line to have to walk, because as dutiful Christians, we are not to judge others. Their behavior is another matter, and that is where the difficulty lies.
Jesus could love all the sinners he encountered and still chastise them for their immoral behavior. (Sometimes Christians conveniently forget that he called people out on the things they did wrong.) He had the authority to do so, obviously. We are called to love one another, without judging the character of others, but the behavior of a person is so intricately entwined into the character of a person, that the two are hardly discernible. For example, I can respect and love someone who is dealing with same sex attraction, but if that person acts on those impulses and I do not condone that action, it is hardly discernible whether I am judging the person or the action, because they are so closely related. This is where “love the sinner, hate the sin” comes into play. Most people, especially non-Catholics, refuse this can be done. For instance, you cannot disapprove of a person’s lying, without calling him or her a liar, right? Wrong. We can and should disapprove of sin, but we cannot and should not disapprove of people. There are girls I know and love, both 19 years old, who have had abortions. I abhor the sin they committed, but I cannot call them murderers. They were scared, placed in horrible situations by others, and committed a sin because of it. I weep for those babies, I pray for these girls. Nevertheless, they were absolutely wrong; their sins cry to Heaven, and I told them so in the most loving way I could. I have to believe that God knows the sinner’s heart; in fact, I rely on it. He will be the one to judge. Now, I also believe in a just God, one who will hold us accountable for our sins. That is why I cannot justify someone’s sinful behavior; that in itself would be my sin. We are each burdened with something; for some people it may be insecurity, SSA, poverty, etc., and all these things can lead us to sin, but it is the sin we must say is bad, not the person. I think most Catholic are clear on this matter, but we are then judged on being judgmental; even though in our own hearts we have made the distinction, many others do not think the division is even possible.
So here is the second struggle: praying for those who have committed such sin or for those who have such burdens. When we profess to be praying for someone, it can be misconstrued as judgment. For instance, I pray for a friend who struggles with SSA. However, I made the mistake of saying to someone else that I was praying for her. I was called judgmental and “hateful” and that I could not have those “opinions.” Praying that others will see their behavior as sinful and praying that I will see my own behavior as sinful are prayers I come to God with on a daily basis. This is the first step in reconciliation and true contrition. Who does not want that for themselves or others? Nonetheless, I have learned my lesson that those prayers must be my own, but I have also learned that I cannot keep quiet in regards to general sinful behavior. It was difficult to be called judgmental and hateful, because I know I am neither. I have come to the realization as well that it is guilt that leads us to blame others as judgmental and vice versa. If my behavior is not justified, it reminds me that what I am doing is not okay. None of us like being reminded that we are imperfect and neither are our actions or viewpoints. St. Philip Neri said, “If we wish to keep peace with our neighbor, we should never remind anyone of his natural defects.” So in an attempt to simultaneously keep peace and our own good consciences, we cannot rationalize sinful behavior, and we must love our neighbors, in spite of their sin.
I think it is a good idea to remain true to our convictions, the ones God has given to us through the Church and our consciences and pray the following for ourselves and others:
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Psalm 51).
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Charla is a life-long Catholic, married since 1995. She has three children who attend Catholic school and university. Charla has been teaching high school English literature at the same Catholic high school she attended for over 15 years. She has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Latin American Studies, and Secondary Education, as well as a Masters degree in Education. Charla has served as a lector and Eucharistic minister at her parish and school. She enjoys reading, cooking, running, and all activities involving her children. Her special devotions are to the Blessed Mother, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and the Holy Rosary.