Not long after Pope Francis made the remark “Who am I to judge?” many in the media and in the unformed and uninformed Catholic world assumed he had single-handedly changed Church teaching on sexual morality. Since then, anything associated with firm doctrine has been tied with being judgmental, lacking mercy, and so on.
For me, right doctrine, believing the Truth as revealed in Jesus Christ, God incarnate and passed on faithfully from the first eyewitness accounts from generation to generation and interpreted within Holy Tradition–which has to do with handing down the truth properly—is of crucial importance. It is our job to conform our minds, our thinking to the Truth and right doctrine helps us to take thoughts captive to Christ and gives us the faith seeking understanding, to paraphrase St. Anselm.
The Pope needs to be the preserver and defender of this deposit of faith, and under its authority and by extension the authority of Christ. The Holy Spirit spoke in preceding generations and He is not going to contradict Himself now, though He may give us new insights on how everything ties together. So I pray for him every day that he will yield to the Holy Spirit and the charism of the Successor of Peter, especially when his personal opinions or casual remarks seem contradictory.
What does this have to do with Jesus’ command to judge not lest ye be judged? First of all, we have to let Revelation and Tradition judge us, not the other way around. And just as Catholics must resist being their own pope, we must also resist playing God and taking over the role reserved for Him in judging.
But that does not mean throwing all truth out the window and never seeing the difference between right and wrong and extending a kind of lenient mercy over everyone and every behavior.
If I am judging, I am usurping God’s role. And I am probably getting a little frisson of pleasure from feeling morally superior, or contemptuous or resentful or hot with anger, or offended. Long ago I have come to see that’s the booby prize, that little bit of dark pleasure that leads me to enjoy venting, blowing off steam through complaining about what I’m seeing and getting kind of high off it. But the high of being appalled, of being annoyed, of being outraged, while pleasurable for the moment, separates me from God and the joy of being in His Presence. I start to see my prayer life becoming perfunctory and dry. The sin may not seem that serious to me at the time, but the separation, the spiritual dying sets in slowly. No. I want to live. I want to be alive in Christ.
So now I’m making a big effort to quit venting. To quit judging by my own light and to quit being offended. But what happens? Well, maybe I’m a little more boring on blogs and social media, but when I stop accepting the bait of those little highs, I being to see everything in a new light. I hope then to set aside my judging so that the Holy Spirit will give me His light to discern. And when He gives me insight—I pray I will not be tempted to respond with ewwwww! and start venting again, but to see that I’m being called into intercession or to making reparations not to climbing on the throne that belongs to Christ as Judge.
Right doctrine is always a guide towards right relationship with God. It must not be used as fuel for making personal judgments, for self-righteousness, for permitting oneself some “righteous anger” or “laughing to scorn” which I can so easily fall into.
It is a difficult and confusing time in the Catholic Church right now. I see so much anger and indignation on so many blogs and everyone has their reasons and their justification so it seems. Some of the reasons can be quite compelling, even an temptation for me! I see it, I see it. I see why it would make someone angry, even incandescent with rage because sacred teachings are being attacked or twisted. I see so much factionalism, so much treating the Church as a political entity rather than a family. So many who would like to hive off those family members who are difficult or do not see things the same way. All of us need deeper conversion, to find the oneness and unity Jesus prayed for before His crucifixion. The Lord has been working with me to take my partisan sharp elbows down. To stop being factional, partisan or divisive.
It’s like this. Anger undercuts the witness. The taking offense may attract others who also take offense and provides mutual support—you see what I see?!!!!! Yes!!!!! Isn’t it awful?!!!!! And I confess, I go there. Way too much. And I wish to stop.
Even when one is wholly justified in feeling betrayed, angry, outraged—we are commanded by the Lord to forgive, to leave judgment to God, to apply the doctrine to ourselves to remove the plank in our own eye and then, only then will we be some good to the Kingdom.