By Bob Sullivan
I was at the bank the other morning, when a man walked in with a gun. I noticed him immediately, long before anyone else did. Before the man could do anything, I was on him. He didn’t even see me coming before I said, “good morning.”
At first, he was a little shocked, but he recovered quickly. He nodded politely and bid me a good morning as well. You may think it is strange to deal with an armed man in this way, but security guards are people, too.
How did I know this man was not a bank robber? Let me tell you: He was wearing a blue uniform with a patch on it. The patch said “Bank Security.” He was wearing a cap that resembled a police officer’s cap. His gun was in his holster which had some other compartments for things like pepper spray and other police stuff such as a little pocket with exact change needed for a cup of coffee and a doughnut (just kidding). In short, I judged his appearance and behavior. Upon seeing the gun, I could have yelled, “sound the alarm!” Instead, I judged rightly or justly.
We all make hundreds, if not thousands, of these small judgments everyday. It is good that we do. Otherwise we would walk into busy streets, fall down flights of stairs, etc…
The key is that we judge the externals according to the unchanging truth of God’s laws, without acting like we are God. In other words, we do not judge or condemn a person’s soul. Externals are words, behaviors, appearances and other outward features of people and things. God’s laws are natural law, morality and divine revelation through the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church.
Some people believe that we should never make judgements about other people. They say it is okay to judge whether it is raining, so you can decide to use an umbrella, or it is okay to judge the approach of oncoming traffic, but we are absolutely prohibited from judging if someone is promoting, engaged in, or encouraging behavior which is contrary to the way God created us.
We may not enjoy being reminded that we are engaging in behavior which will harm us. We often respond with anger or shame in such situations. However, if it helps us change our decision or our behavior and we avoid the harm, we will be very thankful later.
When a patient sees his doctor after suffering a heart attack or a stroke and his doctor tells him he will have to change his diet and exercise, the patient usually does not respond: “Who are you to judge?” The patient typically accepts the advice as true, even if he doesn’t want to change. In such a case, the doctor is doing his or her job, even though no patient has ever broken into joyful celebration at such an announcement. Some patients actually take the announcement very negatively, but they still don’t label their doctor as judgmental.
What if the doctor did not tell them they had to change their diet and exercise? What if the doctor intentionally avoided the subject, fully knowing that it was necessary? Maybe the doctor was simply tired of giving bad news to people that day and decided that this patient probably would not change his diet and increase his exercise even if he was told to do so.
Worse yet, what if the doctor told the patient he could continue to eat anything he wanted, and he did not have to change his sedentary lifestyle one bit? That would not only be negligent malpractice, it would be an offense to the patient’s human dignity. In such a case, the heart doctor would be making an unjust judgement about the patient by assuming he did not have the intelligence, drive, or self-discipline required to do the right thing.
Now change the doctor/patient scenario with someone who comes to you with their struggles with infidelity, adultery, same-sex attraction, promiscuity, co-habitation before marriage, or other behaviors inconsistent with the Catholic faith, natural law, morality, reason, etc... We know that these behaviors do not bring lasting joy. In fact, they often bring depression, loneliness, suffering, etc…
If a parent, priest, or friend is unwilling to recommend chastity, abstinence, continence, and other virtuous behaviors, it would be like a doctor who doesn’t tell a patient that he can actually change his diet and exercise and avoid future physical suffering? And here we are talking about much more than the temporary physical condition of a heart patient. We are talking about the temporary and the eternal.
Charitably offering or suggesting a more virtuous, moral, and healthy lifestyle is not being judgmental, it is showing authentic love. It is also sacrificial love because we can suffer rejection, criticism and anger when we make such an offer or suggestion. This is how we can be a hero for someone. Heroes do not do what comes easy, they do the stuff that is really difficult. Authentic love requires that we do this. Avoiding the issue out of fear of rejection and criticism is actually self-love, not authentic love.
Who are you to judge? You are just like everyone else because we all judge. The difference is that a Christian wills the good of the other and the Christian is willing to suffer in order to charitably suggest a better way to live. This is heroic, especially in today’s culture.