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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Judging others

“Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.” Rom 2:1

Paul’s caution to the Romans is stark. Don’t judge and you will not be judged. None of us who risks judging others has an excuse. Judging does not belong to us, but to God. Even as a priest in the confessional I am not free to judge others. I can ask a question or three to determine the seriousness of the acts confessed, but I am judging the acts which the person had done or failed to do, not the person. In the confessional, very honestly, this is not difficult. Because I very rarely know the person sitting with me, I can listen with compassion and try to offer words of hope and life. I wish it was this easy in life.

Like most of you, I suspect, I often sit in judgment about others. I judge priests who seem not to be prepared to preach or lead. I judge the very wealthy as greedy and question whether anyone needs a 29 million dollar bonus. I judge parents whose children seem out of control or are acting as if they are entitled to a good life, and every time I do this I know that it is not my place or role to judge others, but to ask for the grace to see others as God sees them. Unfortunately, when I don't ask God for the help to see others as God does, it is as easy for me to judge others about whom I know little as it is not to judge people seeking reconciliation in the confessional.

There is a wonderful example of not judging in Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Covey tells the story of a group of children who enter a subway car with their father. Almost immediately the children begin to talk loudly and even throw things at each other while the father slept. Finally, distressed that the father was not disciplining his children, Covey gently told the man that his children were disturbing everyone and perhaps he might restrain them a bit. The man agreed that his children were out of control but then told Covey that they had just come from the hospital where his wife and their mother had died. “I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either."(Seven Habits)  Knowing the circumstances behind the disruptive behavior of the children changed everything for Covey and for those reading his book.

Most of the time we don’t know the whole story of another’s life, nor do others know the whole of our story. Remembering how little we actually know about others can change not only our thoughts but our behavior. Paul’s reminder in today’s passage should act a wake up call. Acknowledging our own sin and asking God’s forgiveness is a simple daily practice that can keep us from seeing the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own. (Mt 7:5)

Today ask for patience with yourself and compassion for others whose behavior you do not understand

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