It was the habit of a group of men and women of various ages to gather Saturday mornings at a Texas abortion clinic, to walk up and down the sidewalk and pray the Rosary. It was the custom of this clinic to respond by sending out two or three security guards and a large dog to pass by the group and ensure that none of them spoke to any of the women going in. Sometimes the security detail was silent.Sometimes they would try to agitate the protesters by shouting, “Get a life!” Don’t you have anything better to do than harass these women?” and the like. Most times though, the guards would try to disrupt the protest by one carefully chosen sentence.Security would collectively steady its gaze, stand up tall and aim the rhetorical “big guns” on us. They would, with great flourish, confidently pronounce, the unanswerable, the silencer of Christians, an admonition right from the lips of Our Savior Himself, “Do not judge.”
“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mt 7: 1) must be the most misinterpreted, and recently, the most quoted words of Jesus in the whole New Testament. In our modern culture, this one statement of Our Lord’s has taken on a greater importance than that of the Ten Commandments. One breath of this phrase can single handedly sap the evangelical strength of the most solid Christian. It has come to mean that to judge an act as sinful, is as sinful as the act itself. So, if a good friend or relative announces that he is moving in with his girlfriend, you may congratulate him, you may note that the two will save on living expenses, you may stay silent, you may buy them a toaster, or you may even point out studies that show living together before marriage affects the later marriage (if it happens) for the worse. You may NOT use the word sin at any time when referring to the arrangement. Unless it is in jest, you know, “Going to live in sin, huh?”
The Roman virtues were justice and courage. The Greeks celebrated wisdom and eloquence. Medieval Europe valued piety and strength. In the Western world, our greatest virtue has become tolerance. But it is selective: tolerance only for sexual sins and for sins against life. For Christianity and religion in general, intolerance — as the last obstacle to unrestrained license.
Imagine the reaction of a mixed group of people to my saying: “I put my daughter on birth control. She and her boyfriend are very serious and I want to make sure she doesn’t end up an unwed mother.” Now imagine if I said this: “I am combining my daughter’s wedding with her sweet sixteen. She and her boyfriend are very serious and I want to make sure she doesn’t end up an unwed mother.” Okay, more realistically, what if I shared with a group that my daughter has taken a pledge of chastity? How many eye rolls and mocking smiles would I be met with? On the other hand what is commonly tolerated by society is pretty extreme. Ever watch snippets from a gay pride parade? Does is get more extreme than partial birth abortion?
Society only tolerates sexual sins and sins against life. And that tolerance is strictly enforced. People trudge out the “do not judge” phrase and use it like a club to silence anyone who might speak against such license. Society also rewards anyone who abides by its rules and strikes the word “sin” from his or her vocabulary. Christians are just as susceptible to wanting to be liked as anyone else. And so, a Catholic mother does not speak out against her son’s planned vasectomy. She fears losing his love, and besides, who is she to judge? A young man says nothing when he hears that his friend intends to abort her “accidental” pregnancy. After all, he is not a woman; he can’t understand how she feels. We even go so far as to give Jesus a makeover. We preach a weak, winking, desperate-to-be-liked, Jesus. This Jesus didn’t die to save us from sin; he made it so that sin doesn’t exist.
The thing is, though, there is a hell and we can go there if we live a life callously committing one mortal sin after another and never repenting. A man once told St. Pio of Pietrelcina that he did not believe in hell. To which the holy stigmatic replied, “You will when you get there.” How insensitive! How judgmental! Padre Pio, it seems, was more concerned with this man repenting than being liked by him. St Faustina, the very saint who revealed the depths and wonder of God’s mercy, was also commanded to, “visit the abysses of hell so that [she] might…testify to its existence.” The horrors she describes in her diary (741) make Dante’s literary description of hell look tame. Our Blessed Mother showed the three children of Fatima a vision of hell. The vision was so terrifying that all three said they would have died of fright had it not been for Our Lady’s protection. The children spent the rest of their lives spreading the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, praying and making sacrifices for sinners. They wanted to do whatever they could to help souls not spend eternity there. Fr. John Echert (EWTN) notes that “the Gospels dedicate nearly twice the attention to the punishment of hell than the reward of Heaven”. So, no matter how we would like to wish it away, hell exists and God does not want our sins to take us there.
The First Pillar of Holiness
A pillar of holiness according to St. Francis de Sales, is hatred; hatred of all that is evil, hatred of all that God hates. We know “what” God loves. God loves us unfathomably! He created us in His image. He suffered the most painful death in human history to save us from our sins. He dwells intimately within us in His Holy Spirit. But God does not force us to love Him. He would never have had it that way.There is always that chance we will pick sin over His love and He will lose us forever.So, what does God hate? Sin! He hates sin in the same way a mother hates the cancer that is devouring her precious child. The way a father hates the drug addiction that is destroying his son. God hates sin because it kills us. And if we love God and are our brother’s keepers, we should hate it too!
That is why we need to judge. St. Thomas Aquinas defines mercy as removing an evil from the distressed. It is mercy that motivates a wife to demand that her alcoholic husband go to AA. Mercy moves a father to free his daughter from a physically abusive boyfriend. We love our brother in Christ. We know that God loves him. We want to help him remove the evil of sin from his life. We want the soul to experience the consolation, inexplicable joy, and true freedom of loving and being loved by Jesus. We do not have to wait until we are perfect to offer this mercy. When Jesus said “remove the log from your own eye before you remove the speck from your neighbors” he was warning against hypocrisy. In other words we should be attempting to follow Christ ourselves when we correct others. If one overweight individual invited another overweight individual to start a diet and exercise routine with him, it would not be hypocritical to do so. He would not have to wait until appearing on the cover of Fit magazine before inviting the overweight friend to begin the regimen. In the same way, as long as we are sincerely journeying towards Christ, we should try to take our brothers with us. We don’t have to wait until we are canonized.
I was inspired to write this piece because of a painful episode in my own life when I failed to be merciful. I had a dear friend who once confided to me his struggle with a sexual sin. Note, I said “struggled.” I had the perfect opportunity to tell him the consoling and wise teachings of the Catholic Church. I did not. I loved him very much, but loved being seen as mature, tolerant, and compassionate even more. I withheld the beauty and true compassion of the Church’s teachings, and only restated the old unimaginative societal line to him. He was tragically killed in a car accident a few months later. God had arranged for me to reach out to my friend with the life giving truth of Christ, but I traded an act of mercy for “the esteem of men”. Will everyone we fail to correct die shortly afterwards? Or course not. But it is possible that your relationship with the person will change, or you will miss a particularly fertile time to speak to another about Christ. We should be docile to the Holy Spirit and use the opportunities He lays in our laps to evangelize and help free others from sin.
Christ commanded us to go out to the whole world and tell the Good News. We are being cowed by our culture’s “do not judge” rule and thereby not fulfilling the great commission. As the Church militant, we must trample human respect under our feet.We must once again take up our weapons of truth and brotherly love. We will be merciful — loving who God loves, hating what God hates. Only then we will have victory and fearlessly win the world for Christ!