As Christians in the world we cannot help but be influenced by the developments that happen around us. Indeed, we believe that many of these advances are gifts from God given to us to enjoy. But not all developments in thinking and practices are for the better.
One alarming development is the false thinking that we cannot judge other people, or that we should not be judged. The wider community regularly maintains that no one is in a position to judge another’s behavior or statements. This approach holds that everyone’s words and actions are of equal value. This position may not be Christian, but it hasn’t stopped it from finding a home amongst us. We regularly hear statements from Christian men and women like, “We’re not in a position to judge” or “You can’t judge them,” and “If it’s fine for them, then it’s fine.” This thinking has a name. It’s called moral relativism and it tries to claim that the morality of behavior is only determined by the person who does the act, or the context within which the action is taken.
Our Catholic tradition teaches us that a context is very important in trying to work out if someone is to blame for what they say and do, but that a person’s particular circumstances never change the fact that the words or actions are in themselves wrong. We hold that while all human beings have equal value and dignity, we do not believe that everyone’s opinion and actions are of equal worth. We believe that ‘right judgment’ is a gift of the Holy Spirit and that it’s best exercised with humility and compassion.
When I hear people say I should not “judge” others, I assume they are telling me that I should not “condemn” other people. There is a world of difference between judging and condemning. To judge is to make an assessment. To condemn is to damn. As Christians we judge because we have to keep discerning how the things of the world can be reconciled with the things we hold to be true. Condemnation is the prerogative of God alone, who sees all, knows all and loves all. In today’s Gospel, however, John tells us that even God has forfeited his right to condemn the world, but has sent Jesus to be the world’s light, life, truth, and savior.
The Gospel reminds us that if we feel condemned for what we have done and said, then it’s because we have condemned ourselves, not because God condemns us. John tells us that even when we find ourselves lost in the darkness of our most destructive behavior, the saving love of Christ is always available to us, inviting us to come out of the darkness into his light.
What a great metaphor the light and dark is for making the best judgments in our own lives. Alarm bells should always ring when we find ourselves not wanting anyone else to know what we have said or done. Secrecy is often the ally of sin and the more open and transparent we are, the more confident we can be that we are walking as children of the light.
May this Lenten Eucharist enable us to let go of the desire to condemn others and ourselves, and to receive again the compassionate, just and humble gift of right judgment that helps us to see the darkness for what it is, and keeps us walking in the light of Christ.
Richard Leonard, S.J.