“Why do you Catholics always judge people? Didn’t the Pope say “Who am I to judge?” Far from being particular to this pontificate, in my 15 years practicing the Catholic faith, I’ve been asked this question more than anything through now three popes. Whenever we state something is wrong, we are said to be “judging” people. While this is something difficult to discuss with those outside the faith, for the Catholic, understanding behavior to be wrong is not judging someone, if by one means judging that they will go to hell. That’s for God to be concerned with. Rather, understanding behavior to be wrong is what is called discernment, and something vital to the Christian today, as the propers for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost make clear.
Before the Gospel, we praise God for the fact that He enlightens His children, and because of that, we will not be confounded. The Offertory states that with God there is no confusion, while the collect states that God will take all those things harmful to us, and give us only that which is profitable. How are we to understand these together? I believe when one looks at the readings in the Scriptures, one will understand things better.
In the epistle, St. Paul points out that before we came to the faith, many Christians had partaken in things “of which you are now ashamed.” It was only with the light of faith that we realized we were called to something better. Sin isn’t just a “bad thing.” Sin is bad because it is contrary to what we were meant to do as human beings. Defrauding a worker of his wages is wrong not just because a worker doesn’t receive a check, but because we exploited that individual unfairly for our own gain. Nothing of creation should ever be exploited solely for our gain to the detriment of everything else. When one engages in sex (any kind of sex) outside the institution of matrimony, sex is defined as something which goes against our nature. We weren’t created for selfishness. Once Christ saved us, He also helps us to overcome those selfish desires, so we can get back to doing what we were supposed to be doing. In the case of the worker, it’s not just paying him what the law obligates. We go beyond that and pay him enough so that he can live out his vocation and calling. You aren’t focusing so much on your own needs as helping them accomplish theirs. Sex no longer becomes something of selfish fulfillment, but an offering of self that is directed towards the creation of new life.
When we judge acts, this is what we should judge them by, and this is what the Gospel helps us to understand. Christ tells us that a good tree brings forth good fruit, and a bad tree bad fruit. We will know what those fruits are if we pay attention. That requires discernment. By what standard are we discerning? The standard is what was mentioned in the epistle: are we acting according to our fallen nature, or our redeemed nature? Are we focused on our own desires, upon others, or ultimately upon God’s desires?
When exercising discernment, we must always be careful that this discernment doesn’t turn into judging the state of someone’s soul. Like St. Paul, we declare these acts as contrary to our nature as Christians, but, and this is the important but, for those engaging in those acts, we call them to repentance. We show them how these acts are contrary to our human dignity, and what man should be aspiring to. Nobody is perfect, and we will often fall in this calling as much as those we are calling to repentance. That is why we must drive out that spirit of being judgmental. If we aren’t careful, if we don’t trust in God completely, we run the risk of falling into those same sins. Our exhortation of sinners to repentance should always be as an equal willing to help someone on their way. What man, seeing a friend attempt to complete a task incorrectly, would not show him the right way? Most of those who are in serious sin are not evil people. They are sincere, but sincerely mistaken. If we’re honest, we are often sincerely mistaken as well. That is why the Postcommunion prayer refers to the Eucharist as God’s “healing action.” Alongside the sacrament of Penance, the Eucharist helps heal us from those things contrary to our nature. That’s why we need to invite people to Church. In order to grow good fruit, you must be rooted within the Church.