“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” (Matthew 7:1-2).
Dispelling a False Interpretation
All too often, if we point out another’s sin to them as a matter of fraternal correction for the good of the other person’s soul, we are told that Christ taught us not to judge. And we cannot judge anyone else or tell anyone else what is right or wrong. Like the errors associated with “Call No Man Father,” the errors propagated in this matter are easily dismissed.
What did Our Lord actually mean in those words recorded in the 7th chapter of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew? The Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary, in citing the preeminent expert on Holy Scripture, St. Jerome, writes:
“St. Jerome observes, Christ does not altogether forbid judging, but directs us how to judge. Where the thing does not regard us, we should not undertake to judge. Where it will bear a favorable interpretation, we should not condemn. Magistrates and superiors, whose office and duty require them to judge faults, and for their prevention to condemn and punish them, must be guided by evidence, and always lean towards the side of mercy, where there are mitigating circumstances. Barefaced vice and notorious sinners should be condemned and reprobated by all.”
“In this place, nothing more is meant than that we should always interpret our neighbor’s actions in the most favorable light. God permits us to judge of such actions as cannot be done with a right intention, as murder. As to indifferent actions, we must always judge in the most favorable sense. There are two things in which we must be particularly on our guard: 1. With what intention such an action was done. 2. Whether the person who appears wicked will not become good.”
If we were to interpret the words “judge not” to the extreme as liberals would take it, we would have to abolish the entire judiciary system. There would be no court of law. There would be no right for anyone to pass judgement on another and sentence anyone for a crime. For that matter, even the Ten Commandments would effectively be abolished. Because without judgment, one can never say if a Commandment is being kept or being broken. Taken to such a logical conclusion, we see the absurdity of this false interpretation.
Obligation to Judge
It is very important – especially in these times of extreme liberalism, subjectivism and absolute relativism – to emphasize that some individuals are required to judge. Some have to judge because it is a duty of their office. Judges for example judge civil matters. If they merely discuss or recommend, then there is no force in their court and no purpose to their role. Parents must judge the actions of their own children. If they neglect this duty, their children will not be formed correctly. Priests must judge in the confessional. If they refuse to judge, then how can they absolve?
Nevertheless, those who are called to judge, must do so within proper limitations and boundaries. A particular individual usually only has the authority to judge certain matters and/or certain individuals and/or in certain situations. Normally it is disagreement over these distinctions that causes contention and the accusation: “Don’t judge me!” And above all, we must always remember that all judgments should be carried out for the common good. Catholics are especially obligated to render their judgments in accordance with supernatural faith, hope and charity.
Avoiding Rash Judgments
Our Lord taught us again and again of the importance of showing charity to others. If we see someone doing something, we should always have in mind that they are acting with a good intention, unless this is clearly not the case. This is clearly the Church’s long-established interpretation of this verse, as St. Francis de Sales nicely illustrates in An Introduction to the Devout Life:
“’Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,’ said the Saviour of our souls; ‘condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned:’ and the Apostle Saint Paul, ‘Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.’ Of a truth, hasty judgments are most displeasing to God, and men’s judgments are hasty, because we are not judges one of another, and by judging we usurp our Lord’s own office. Man’s judgment is hasty, because the chief malice of sin lies in the intention and counsel of the heart, which is shrouded in darkness to us.
“Moreover, man’s judgments are hasty, because each one has enough to do in judging himself, without undertaking to judge his neighbor. If we would not be judged, it behooves us alike not to judge others, and to judge ourselves. Our Lord forbids the one, His Apostle enjoins the other, saying, ‘If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.’ But alas! for the most part we precisely reverse these precepts, judging our neighbor, which is forbidden on all sides, while rarely judging ourselves, as we are told to do.”
“And so ought we always to judge our neighbor as charitably as may be; and if his actions are many-sided, we should accept the best. Again, when Saint Joseph found that the Blessed Virgin was with child, knowing her to be pure and holy, he could not believe that there was any sin in her, and he left all judgment to God, although there was strong presumptive evidence on which to condemn her. And the Holy Spirit speaks of Saint Joseph as ‘a just man.’ When a just man cannot see any excuse for what is done by a person in whose general worth he believes, he still refrains from judging him, and leaves all to God’s Judgment. Again, our Crucified Savior, while He could not wholly ignore the sin of those who Crucified Him, yet made what excuse He might for them, pleading their ignorance. And so when we cannot find any excuse for sin, let us at least claim what compassion we may for it, and impute it to the least damaging motives we can find, as ignorance or infirmity.”
When Judging Is Allowed
Thus, we have every right to point out the evils of artificial contraception or abortion. We have the duty to stamp out sacrilege and false religion. We have an obligation to defend the Lord’s Holy Name in conversation and bring sinners back to the Sacraments. And priests have an obligation to judge and deny Holy Communion to public, unrepentant sinners.
Holy Communion is not a right – it is a privilege. While most sins are private and known to only ourselves and God, people who live public lives that are contrary to the Catholic Faith may be denied Holy Communion by a priest. Holy Communion must be denied to public, unrepentant sinners like politicians who claim to be Catholic but who nevertheless champion abortion “rights.” Notorious criminals, murderers, or the like also may be denied Holy Communion. Why? Because only a Catholic in the state of grace may approach Holy Communion. There is no exception to that.
While a priest will not infallibly know if any of us are in the state of grace, it is our responsibility to have moral certitude about this. The priest however can know if someone is a public, unrepentant sinner. This objective judgment is irrespective of the subjective state of grace, or lack thereof, of an individual. This is because the public scandal being given by the sin is a constitutive factor. In such cases, it is not just a matter of a person privately going to confession, but the person must also make public restitution for public sin. Otherwise, many Catholics will think it is permissible to be guilty of that grave sin(s) and still receive Holy Communion. The prudence behind this Church discipline stands in clear relief today!
In such a case, in order to prevent the profanation of Our Lord’s Body, Holy Communion must be denied to anyone who is known to be living publically in a state of grave sin.
When we judge others, we judge their actions – always assuming the best until proven wrong. We do not judge whether a person will be in Heaven or not one day as only God knows that. And we must remember that if we show little mercy to others, like the Lord taught us in parables, we too will be shown little mercy. In all things, we are called to prudence. May the Holy Ghost grant us His gifts to know what is always right, and may He give us the graces to do what we must in such instances.