In my experience, when someone says to another that they did something morally wrong, the other sometimes responds, “who are you to judge?” Indeed, who is anyone to judge?
I remember when I was at Texas A&M in College Station, I was part of a group of students who would work pro-actively for an increase in respect for all human life from conception to natural death.
Planned Parenthood imposed a powerful presence that stood against that respect because of the abortions that were performed at their facility in Bryan, Texas. See the figure below if this is news to you. Abortion kills a child and ruins the life of the woman as well as the family and friends involved.
Our pro-life group heard rumors that those in charge of Planned Parenthood were gathering for a meeting to discuss plans for expanding their operation. We decided to act in defense of innocent children, who have no voice, by standing by the public roadway that led to the building in which they were meeting.
We did not yell. We did not spit. We did not cast slurs. We prayed the rosary and held up signs that expressed clearly and charitably the beauty of life and the evil of abortion.
As we did this, a woman, ostensibly a member of the Planned Parenthood gathering, walked up to each one of us and handed us a sliver of paper. On it I read the words: Judge not, that ye be not judged (Mat. 7).
I felt a bit angry. First, I thought that she was judging me. How would she know what I thought about her? How could she interpret that I was judging her if she did not hear me say that she was going to hell?
Second, this was, and still is, a common response given by some defending abortion. They say we should not judge, instead of really addressing the issue. Isn’t abortion killing a child? Doesn’t it really lead many women to depression, child abuse, and suicide? Shouldn’t the life of the unborn child be protected under the law as it is for every other person.
Yet, I am happy that it was a good moment for me because I still did not yell or respond in kind, although I could have done so. I believe God’s grace had taken over.
At that time I simply said, “we are not judging you. We are simply telling you the truth.”
Who am I to judge the soul and the conscience of anyone? I am not the one to judge. In the words of St. Paul, I can’t even judge myself.
At the same time, the Just Judge commands us in Matthew 18: if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
He even says that if one were not to listen to you, take him to another person and try to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, bring him before the whole community.
This seems harsh and judgmental, doesn’t it? Well, it certainly is not judgmental if we understand what it means to be judgmental: to presume to know the heart and thoughts of another person and judge them as worthy or unworthy of heaven. That’s it. We are obligated to judge in other ways. To live a moral life we must judge between right and wrong, vice and virtue, sin and grace.
And Jesus makes us responsible to judge those same objects in the actions of others. This is definitely one of the more uncomfortable teachings of Jesus. At the same time, it can be the most beautiful.
How so? If we are not judging the consciences of each other, than we are not condemning each other. Instead, we are loving each other. This love motivates us to want what us good for ourselves and the community. It makes us willing to judge the actions of others and respond with loving correction.
In this context, correcting another person for their faults should be very unpleasant business. It reminds me of when we see a friend walking down the hallway with their pants’ zipper open. We are embarrassed to say something and when we say it, the other is embarrassed as well. But in the end, everybody is better off and your friend would hopefully be grateful and not defensive.
No judgment. No condemnation. Just a simple statement of fact: your fly is open.
Correcting each other, if done with love, is a merciful act (it’s one of the spiritual works of mercy). It involves an act of cleaning each other of the sin that sometimes we cannot see or want to see on ourselves.
In my experience, my closest friends are those who are willing to endure the awkwardness of correcting me.
Do you have the right to judge a person’s conscience? No. Do you have the right to correct your brother with love? No, you have the duty.