Monday of the 12th week in Ordinary Time, Matthew 7:1-5
Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
Our Lord tells us that we must not judge our neighbor, and he does not say that we may judge sometimes, or when the case is clear and obvious to us, but rather that we must never judge.
St. James says the same: He that detracteth his brother, or he that judgeth his brother, detracteth the law, and judgeth the law. But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, and judge, that is able to destroy and to deliver. But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour? (James 4:11-13)
What shall we say, then, must we never judge another? Is it wrong to form any opinions at all about others?
Magistrates and judges must judge
Commenting this verse, Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide tells us:
“Christ does not here prohibit the public judgments of magistrates, by which they condemn the guilty and absolve the innocent, for this is necessary in all commonwealths, but only private judgments, and that when they are rash, envious, detractive, for they are repugnant to charity and justice, yea to God Himself, whose office of judgment is usurped. For we have not been set to be judges but companions of our neighbours. Wherefore if we have an evil opinion of him we do him an injury. And we take away his good fame if we let this judgment go abroad; for reputation is a great good, greater far than riches. So S. Jerome, Bede, and Basil.”
St. Thomas Aquinas points out that God himself commanded the Israelites to set up judges and magistrates to pronounce judgment: Thou shalt appoint judges and magistrates in all thy gates … that they may judge the people with just judgment. (Deuteronomy 16:18)
For, indeed, the judge stands in judgment not over the things of God (i.e. not over the salvation or damnation of men), but over the things pertaining to the common good. Hence, the punishment which a human judge or magistrates gives does not pertain to salvation, but only to the good of human society (for example, imprisonment, or a fine).
Thus, a judgment may be sinful on three accounts: First, that it not proceed from an inclination to true justice, but rather from contempt or revenge or some other illicit motive. Second, that it be about something in which a man has not authority to judge, as by a usurpation (for example, when a secular judge dares to define what constitutes a Catholic organization). Third, when a judgment is made without moral certainty but only on suspicion – this is “rash judgment”.
Therefore, excepting in the courts, there is never a time when we may judge our neighbor – for we are not as God and do not see his heart, nor do we know all of the circumstances. Finally, even if we did know all these, we have not been appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead, thus we have no authority to judge our neighbor.
If we cease to judge our neighbor, and focus more on judging ourselves, we will make great progress in the spiritual life.
Advice from St. Francis de Sales
The Doctor of the Catholic Press writes of this topic with a divine eloquence in Introduction to the Devout Life, book III, chapter 28 – [here]. Below are several helpful quotation from this chapter.
“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 neighbour. If we would not be judged, it behoves us alike not to judge others, and to judge ourselves.”
How do we stop making rash judgments?
The saints admit that there is scarcely a man who does not fall to the sin of rash judgment, that is, of making any judgment against his neighbor.
De Sales continues:
“What remedy can we apply [to rid ourselves of rash judgments]? They who drink the juice of the Ethiopian herb Ophiusa imagine that they see serpents and horrors everywhere; and those who drink deep of pride, envy, ambition, hatred, will see harm and shame in every one they look upon.
“The first can only be cured by drinking palm wine, and so I say of these latter,--Drink freely of the sacred wine of love, and it will cure you of the evil tempers which lead you to these perverse judgments. So far from seeking out that which is evil, Love dreads meeting with it, and when such meeting is unavoidable, she shuts her eyes at the first symptom, and then in her holy simplicity she questions whether it were not merely a fantastic shadow which crossed her path rather than sin itself. Or if Love is forced to recognise the fact, she turns aside hastily, and strives to forget what she has seen.
“Of a truth, Love is the great healer of all ills, and of this above the rest. Everything looks yellow to a man that has the jaundice; and it is said that the only cure is through the soles of the feet.
“Most assuredly the sin of rash judgments is a spiritual jaundice, which makes everything look amiss to those who have it; and he who would be cured of this malady must not be content with applying remedies to his eyes or his intellect, he must attack it through the affections, which are as the soul's feet.
“If your affections are warm and tender, your judgment will not be harsh; if they are loving, your judgment will be the same.”
Are we never to judge?
“Are we never, then, to judge our neighbour? you ask. Never, my child. It is God Who judges criminals brought before a court of law. He uses magistrates to convey His sentence to us; they are His interpreters, and have only to proclaim His law. If they go beyond this, and are led by their own passions, then they do themselves judge, and for so doing they will be judged. It is forbidden to all men alike, as men, to judge one another.”
And St. Francis de Sales continues, explaining that it is one thing to be cautious and another to judge:
“We do not necessarily judge because we see or are conscious of something wrong. Rash judgment always presupposes something that is not clear, in spite of which we condemn another. It is not wrong to have doubts concerning a neighbour, but we ought to be very watchful lest even our doubts or suspicions be rash and hasty.
“If an action is in itself indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to imagine that it means evil, unless there is strong circumstantial evidence to prove such to be the case. And it is a rash judgment when we draw condemnatory inferences from an action which may be blameless.”
Be like bees, when a storm is coming
De Sales loves to make analogies to bees, and he offers a most profitable metaphor:
“Those who keep careful watch over their conscience are not often liable to form rash judgments, for just as when the clouds lower the bees make for the shelter of their hive, so really good people shrink back into themselves, and refuse to be mixed up with the clouds and fogs of their neighbour's questionable doings, and rather than meddle with others, they consecrate their energies on their own improvement and good resolutions.
“There is no surer sign of an unprofitable life than when people give way to censoriousness and inquisitiveness into the lives of other men.”