One of the worst traps we can fall into is to begin to judge others. It matters not a bit what we are judging others on – to do so is wrong. There is only one judge – and it is none of us. Sadly, for Christians – and particularly for Catholics, it seems to me – the temptation to judge others is just too strong and it can be a failure we make over and over again. To make a judgement on another person is to place ourselves above that person in some way – it is to believe that we are better than them and to think our being ‘better’ gives us the right to lord it over them and to castigate them, pointing out their faults. And once we start to judge, this generally leads to a sense of separation – it becomes a question of tribalism, of ‘us and them’. ‘We’, needless to say, place ourselves in the ‘better’ group. And I am every bit as guilty of this as anyone else.
What is astonishing is that in doing this, we have completely failed to understand not only the message of the Gospel itself, but to have missed the very essence of the Person of Jesus Christ. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus was a man who welcomed others to approach Him regardless of who or what others thought of them; there are several prominent figures in the stories from the Gospels who were judged by many around them for one reason or another – and yet it was with these very people that the Lord associated Himself, welcoming them with openness and warmth. Conversely, it is those who considered themselves to be good and holy, ‘righteous’ in other words, whom the Lord did not associate with – in fact He had some choice words reserved for such people.
When we look at an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, every one of us would do well to remember that every one of us placed those thorns upon His Heart; that the sins of every one of us pierced that divine Heart and tore It open; and that it was for every one us that this adorable Heart poured Itself out even to death, stopping at nothing for every one of us. Yes, for every one of us – without exception.
Similarly, the message of Divine Mercy is, very simply put, this – that Divine Mercy is poured out upon all of us, because all of us are sinners and in need of it. But the first step in the message of Divine Mercy is that we recognise our need of it – and this means to recognise our personal sinfulness; in doing so, we open ourselves to the grace of God and allow His Divine Mercy to touch us and to transform us. But our refusal to accept our sinfulness is an obstacle – our refusal prevents that grace, that mercy, from acting within us. And judging others places us in precisely the position where this is most likely.
Saint Bernadette once commented that she was aware of a fault in her nature – she was tempted to immediately judge. She knew, however, that this was indeed a character flaw and so not intentional; she said that she allowed herself this first impulse and excused herself because it was part of her character – but she would never allow it to proceed to the second impulse as this was within her will and she was able to stop it. There is a message there for all of us.
And if the Sacred Heart, the Divine Mercy and the Saints are not sufficient to stop us in our tracks in the matter of judging others, then we should look to the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary; see if we can find one single occasion in the Gospels where She criticised or judged another, even as they crucified Her Son. Let us follow Her example.
But there is one further danger for us in judging others; we do not know the divine plan for that soul – yet there is such a plan for every one of us – and our judgements may very well disrupt that plan and set the soul on a path away from the Lord. Judging another may result in that soul thinking “well, even they know I’m a terrible sinner – so what’s the point in trying to do better”. Woe to the one whose judgements cause this in another soul.
And if any of us have read this far and we are now sitting here consoling ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work when we, in our self-perceived great charity and deep holiness, correct or put down others by means of our judgements, then consider this – who is really leading us along this path? Has the Lord given us the charism to read souls and to pronounce judgement upon them? Do our actions imitate Christ the Lord? Are they in tune with the message of the Gospel? Or might it be the Deceiver, the Father of Lies?
In gazing upon the Image of the Sacred Heart or the Image of the Divine Mercy, let us each pause for a moment and ask of Him the grace of a deep charity toward all; and a further grace of interior self-perception that, in true humility, we might see ourselves as He sees us. In this way, the very thought of judging any other living person will be alien to us and we will advance in virtue at last.