Jul 2, 2013

The present state of things, part 2: To judge with love

"Has no one condemned you ?. . ."
How do we as Christians deal with differences of opinion? At the present time everyone has an opinion on the same-sex “marriage” debate.  It all depends which survey you listen to but there are indeed many people of good will, Catholics among them of course, who hold differently than the Church.  Isn’t there room for diversity in the Church?  The nature of being Catholic is about being inclusive. 

We include a diversity of cultures, languages, and all sorts of people. Within the Church there are a host of lifestyles in which we can remain authentic Christian/Catholics. A Catholic can live as a cloistered Monk or Nun in a monastery or be very busy about the things of this world as a married person raising a family and still be fully Catholic.  

But, it seems we have bought in to the political debate, which is divisive by nature and we take that same emotional attachment to our opinions, viewpoints, and tendency to label people unfairly, into our Christian life.

By its nature our Church life is above politics and ideally should be beyond division but promote unity in the midst of diversity. In other words, I think we have linked “judging others” as a negative trait.

It might be good to think about this in light of today’s out of control obsession with flinging verbal bows and arrows over the bow of our viewpoints expressed in the public forum. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bigot is defined as:

A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” I would like to add to the "members of a group" those of same sex attraction.
 If judgment implies, as the definition of a bigot states, that I “. . . regard or treat the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance” then that sort of attitude has no place in our Christian life and certainly not in our faith communities or Catholic parishes.  All are welcome as Jesus shows us so often in his earthly ministry.  But what does “all are welcome” imply? Can we as Christians make any sort of judgments?

Seems to me, we make judgments every day on all sorts of things and people.  I don’t like Okra.  I think it’s a disgusting sort of vegetable and tastes terrible. Am I an okra bigot because I passed judgment on it? We judge music as to whether we enjoy it or not.  Parents pass judgments on their children all the time.  They have to point out to them when they are doing something wrong or engaged in destructive behavior.  When we drive our cars, we carefully judge the traffic around us in order to decide the safest route and speed.  So, all this judging is normal human caution and behavior.  To judge wisely is our prayer.

Did Jesus make judgments?  Yes, all the time on people and the direction of their lives. His way is a model for us both in our personal lives and in our Church communities - above all, to judge with love.

To the Samaritan woman at the well, who was married more than five times (Jn 4: 1-42) he passed judgment on her life but then called her to a higher moral standard – the way he was proposing.  With love he did not condemn but also gently called her. He wasn’t just tolerant of her lifestyle and said nothing about it.

When he spoke about the Eucharist in John’s Gospel (Jn 6) and many, many walked away from him and “no longer accompanied him” he stood his ground and did not compromise.  He did not condemn but then even questioned his own Apostles and asked them, “Do you also want to leave?” They remained with him but with the power of love.

In Luke 15 we hear of the prodigal son and the Father (God) who waits for his son to return not to condemn him but to love him.  While he passed judgment on the fact that what his son did was reprehensible he knew that if his son came to his senses (changed his way) he would return and be welcomed with love.  That is how God deals with us and how we should with each other in our differences.  Here Jesus teaches us that to judge with love does not mean that even though I love you I approve of what you do.

The “with love” part implies, I think, a call to conversion.  Jesus did not simply love others and then go his way.  Every act of mercy and love was linked to the expectation that the individual would now live a new life; leave the old ways behind and adopt a new way of living – one formed in light of the Gospel.  Should we expect the same in the Church?

Yes, all are welcome and all should experience the love of a community but a love with a call to conversion. 

In the Gospel of Matthew 18: 15 – 20, Jesus explains that we should pass judgment on one another but in love and respect.  Not to appear puffed up and self-righteous but to help one another in the Christian way of life and to assist the community live a Christ-like model.  That is an ideal but one that can be applied in practical ways. 

To judge with love means to call one another to a higher moral code using the Gospel of Christ, and the mind of the Church, as a template for living.

No bigots allowed but only those who judge with love and respect.      
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