Nothing could be more Christlike than authentic judgment

Father John A. Kiley

A phrase readers might not have heard since their days in catechism class is the expression rash judgment. Rash judgment is, of course, jumping to conclusions regarding a neighbor’s conduct. The eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” broadly forbids rash judgment whether the hasty conclusion is outwardly expressed or just considered in one’s heart. Biblical rash judgment implied making an assessment of a situation without having all the facts at one’s disposal. A married man is spotted in a restaurant with a woman not his wife and the thought of infidelity is immediately given consideration. The other woman, of course, is the man’s sister. A politician’s daughter is chosen to be valedictorian of her graduating class and other parents quickly think that a few strings were pulled in to ensure the honor. The young lady, of course, has been an A+ student since kindergarten. In these situations the eighth commandment demands that the benefit of the doubt take precedence over the hasty verdict. Christian charity always dismisses unfounded suspicions.

Although the catchphrase rash judgment is rarely heard nowadays, the contemporary world is perhaps even stricter than the Bible in condemning passing judgment on another person’s thoughts, words and actions. One of this modern era’s greatest offences is the dreadful prospect of being judgmental. In contemporary culture, speaking the obvious truth is often dismissed as a rash judgment, that is, being as “judgmental,” especially when the speaker’s opinion or even the speaker’s statement of fact differs from modern society’s prevailing wisdom. Contradicting the present day’s accepted moral practice regarding marriage, sexuality, ecology, abortion, assisted suicide, gender identity, and so on is dismissed as judgmental — as bias, as prejudice, as bigotry.

In lieu of Western society’s once prevailing Judeao-Christian consensus that defined right and wrong for more than two thousand years, any thought, any opinion, any outlook must be accorded equal credibility. Frankly even to suggest that some actions are right and some actions are wrong is currently considered judgmental. “Who are you to judge me?” silences all arguments nowadays, even though the judger might be well qualified to commend or condemn some exploit. In the absence of Truth (note with a capital T) and in the presence of Individualism (note again with a capital I) then all convictions are equally valid. Expressing any contradictory judgment is a violation of another’s person’s human rights. What could be more narrow-minded? What could be more un-American? What could be more un-Christlike?

The truth is, of course, that nothing could be more Christlike than authentic judgment. Every Sunday Catholics as well as many other professing Christians acclaim that Jesus Christ “…will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Judgment is clearly a mandate from Christ who alone could boast of being “the way, the truth and the life.” With the most profound charity, Jesus must declare right from wrong, truth from error, good from evil. The suspension of judgment on the part of Christ, or, for that matter, on the part of his Church, would be a grievous offense against true charity and genuine mercy. The prophet Daniel grandly commends those who know the truth and caringly share that truth with others: “But those with insight shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

In this coming Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Malachi also announces, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” Christ presents himself not in judgmental fashion, certainly not. Christ’s judgments are neither rash nor biased. Rather Christ offers all persons the balm of eternal truth and he judges with an eye toward amendment, toward recovery, toward redemption. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Christ wisely cautions his disciples against accepting the world’s prevailing wisdom as a substitute for authentic truth: “He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!”

Believing Christians must not shrink from proclaiming the God-given truth in season and out of season, even when that authentic truth is unfashionable or controversial. Right judgment, actually the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel, will always favor the faithful and factual over the judgmental and jaundiced.