17 March 2012

On judging judgers

Yesterday, Father James Martin, S.J. - the author of several recent popular books, none of which I have read and whom I do not know - changed his Facebook status to read:
I'm tired of Catholics telling other Catholics they're bad Catholics. The only exceptions: (a) you possess the miraculous gift of being able to see within someone else's soul or (b) you're Jesus. If you don't satisfy (a) or (b) please stop the judging, especially on this page.
If one thinks this through logically, isn't Father Martin himself telling certain Catholics they are "bad Catholics"?  Isn't he doing the very thing he condemns?

I'm not writing these words to judge Father Martin, but only to out the illogic of such a statement, which no small number of people generally tend to agree.  It's nothing more than the silly notion of tolerance run rampant.

Consider this: in order to make such a statement, Father Martin is already claiming to be able see within someone else's soul and he has, by virtue of this statement, himself already judged other Catholics and determined them - because of their judgments or judgmental attitude - to be bad.

Certainly I will not disagree that there are many Catholics who simply look for trouble and stir it up whenever and wherever they can and always presume the worst intentions in other people, other Catholics in particular.  Certainly these Catholics need to take a deep breath and speak the truth with gentleness and love and not presume the worst in everyone.

It must be noted, however, that there is a great difference between judging another person and juding another person's actions.  If we are to help one another grow in holiness - because we are, after all, one another's keepers - then we must make a judgment about one another's actions.  Are these actions in keeping with the teachings of Christ and his Church?  If they are, we should encourage them.  If they are not, then our brothers and sisters need to be corrected and shown the truth of the Gospel.  Doing so requires that we make a judgment.


  1. But isn't he judging the action, and not the person? He doesn't say they are bad Catholics or claim any special knowledge of their hearts. He says he's tired of "Catholics telling other Catholics...", he doesn't say he's tired of those Catholics.

    Personally I'm sympathetic with his view. There seems to be a contingent of Catholics -- especially in comboxes online -- who would just as soon revoke the Church membership card of anyone who doesn't share their personal spiritual and -- dare I say it -- political persuasions. (I mention the latter because this is especially evident in Catholic Republicans who think even pro-life Catholic Democrats aren't "Catholic enough" -- and vice versa.)

    I think we do better to take our cue from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which acknowledges that we don't just flip a switch and suddenly accept all that the Church teaches. Those "bad Catholics" may have honest questions and struggles; turning our backs on them just serves to severe the very relationship with the Church that may bring them more fully into the fold.

    (Obligatory disclaimer: of course some actions require that we acknowledge that the relationship has been severed or call for medicinal remedies as outlined in Canon Law. But that's a different thing than calling for the expulsion of whole classes of people.)

    Postscript: Fr. Martin's book on humor, joy, and spirituality is very good; let me know if you'd like to borrow it.

  2. That's why one of my rules for reading news stories online is, "Never read the comments." In the blogosphere, I only read the comments where I can be reasonable sure of their politeness.