Judgment. Whenever we hear that word, we tend to cringe. Judgment. It seems to have a very negative connotation. Judgment, to many people, means a harsh decision, a punishment. We are probably reminded of the words of our Lord, “Judge not,lest you be judged.” Many of us have come to associate judging as a sin. And is not one of our modern culture’s anthems, “Don’t judge me!”
Yes, we have a fear of being judged. St. Paul, though, turns that fear on its head. He writes, “It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal.” St. Paul would definitely not share our paranoia of being judged. So what does he mean?
St. Paul knows that to be judged by his fellow man is inevitable. He knows that other people around him will have opinions about him. Remember when he preached to the Greeks in Athens, and they were interested in what he had to say about Christ, but when he got to the part of the story about our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, they thought he was crazy. But Paul did not mind being judged.
We too can often face the judgment of the world if we are willing to stand up for our faith either in public, at work, at school, or even among our family and friends. In this way we can be tempted to give into the sin of human respect. This sin is what happens when we value the opinion of other people more than God’s teaching. We can commit the sin of human respect by giving in to peer pressure, by participating in gossip rather than challenging others not to speak in such harmful ways, or not being willing to say that what we know is wrong is such.
Along with the temptation to live for the judgment of the world, the sin of human respect, St. Paul points out another trap into which we are tempted to fall. He says, “I do not pass judgment on myself.” So often, we are tempted to set ourselves up as our judge rather than God. You are being your own judge if you value your own opinions more highly than the voice of Christ, speaking lovingly through His Bride, the Church. So often people will say things like, “I know what the Church teaches about same-sex marriage, or contraception, or the rights of immigrants, but I just feel in my own heart that that isn’t right.”
St. Paul gets to the heart of the problem of this attitude: we essentially have three options for who we will allow to be our judge: the world, ourselves, and God. It is only God who can truly judge us because it is God who made us, who formed us from nothing, who knows us better than we know ourselves.
Sometimes people have this attitude because they are confused about their conscience. They might say, “My conscience tells me that what the Church teaches isn’t right anymore.” The conscience is real, but the conscience does not make us our own judge. St. Paul today writes, “I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted.” The conscience is an important tool that we have received from the Lord in order to do good and avoid evil, but the judgment of conscience cannot in and of itself make something right or wrong, good or evil. We have the duty always to be informing our conscience, especially through the teachings of the Church. St. Paul, who had seen the Lord through a mystical vision and had the grace that comes from being Church’s Apostle, tells us that he could not rely absolutely on his conscience, that he was not capable of being his own judge. How much less, then, are we capable of being our own judge?
At first glace, it would appear that being one’s own judge would be preferable than being judged by others. We all, I am sure, share the modern attitude that says, “Don’t judge me!” The problem, though, is that the person who judges him or herself can never receive certainty. Take for example, the important Catholic practice of confession. Going to confession is always, except perhaps for those who are very close to Christian perfection, an unpleasant experience. We have to allow ourselves to be judged by another, to admit our faults before the priest. However, it is the presence of this other judge (who is ultimately not the priest himself but Christ working through him) that gives us the certainty of hearing those beautiful words, “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from yours sins …” If forgiveness is based solely upon the degree to which you feel sorry for your sins, on the way in which you ask God for forgiveness in your heart, then you are the judge of yourself rather than God, and that is ultimately not comforting but terrifying, because how are you to know that you have been forgiven without the objectiveness of Christ being present through the sacrament as a merciful and loving judge?
To set yourself up as your own judge is known as the sin of presumption. This sin takes its most deadly form when someone refuses to confess a grave sin, presuming upon God’s mercy rather than begging for that mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. If you assume that God will forgive you rather than ask for His forgiveness in the way that He established for you to do so, you are your own judge rather than God.
God indeed is our judge, but He is not the frightening and vindictive judge that the world considers when we all think, “Don’t judge me!” Rather, He is a merciful and loving judge who derives no pleasure from punishing the sinner, but rather wants to rehabilitate you to grace. If we consider how merciful and loving of a judge our Lord is, why would we want to be judged by anyone else? If I look honestly at myself, I see someone who, even though I try, fails to be merciful as our Lord is merciful, fails to be loving as our Lord is loving. I would much rather be judged by Him than be judged by myself!
This is the last Sunday before Lent, and Lent presents us with many opportunities to allow God to be our judge rather than ourselves or the world. The first and most important is to go to confession. Holy Mother Church directs us to confess our sins at least once a year during the Lenten season. She would certainly like us to do so more often, knowing how beneficial confession is for our spiritual life, but She sets this as the minimum standard.
For most of my life, I viewed confession as something that had to be done, something that was necessary for staying in a state of grace, especially in order to be able to receive Holy Communion. It wasn’t until entering seminary that I really began to go to confession on a regular basis, every two weeks or more, not because I needed to, but because of how important I knew it was to growing closer to God. I am sure that many of you share the hesitation about going to confession that I used to have, or feel confused or unsure about many aspects of confession. That’s why we’re going to focus this Lent in our weekly Lenten series on this beautiful sacrament, to try to help all of us, as a parish, grow in appreciation for what confession is all about. I hope that many of you will join me each Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. this Lent for this series – there is more information in the bulletin.
Our modern culture says, “Don’t judge me!” but we know that judgment is inevitable. We have to be judged by someone, either ourselves, the world, or God. The choice is ours, but the choice is easy, because only one of the options is a judge who is motivated never by revenge, never by a desire to see us suffer, never by a desire for his own good. God’s judgment is motivated only by His mercy and love. Make it part of your Lenten resolution this year to be judged by Him and by Him alone.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Ft. Wayne
VIII Sunday through the Year