Friday September 6, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 4:1-5) Gospel (St. Luke 5:33-39)
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, says to them, and also to each of us, that we are not to make any judgment before the appointed time. Judging people, I think, is probably one of our favorite hobbies; at least it is something that fills a huge amount of our time, making judgments constantly based on the way someone is dressed, or what they look like, or how they speak, or how they act, or whatever it may be. Now, we do need to make a distinction. We can make judgments on actions. If somebody is doing something immoral, we can say that that is wrong. However, we do not know their motive, and that is the part that we cannot judge - which we try to do anyway. We try to make judgments about the goodness of the person, and that we cannot do. We do not know what is underneath there; we do not know why somebody does what it is that they do; so it is not for us to make that judgment. That is for the Lord, and only for the Lord.
Obviously, if someone is in the habit of doing things that are wrong, you still do not want to be hanging around with such a person. That does not mean this is a bad person necessarily, because we do not know that; but what we can say is, "This is a person who does bad things. Therefore, knowing my own weakness, if I hang around with that person, I too will be dragged into the bad things and I don't want to do that." We need to be very clear on that. Look at what the Pharisees did in the Gospel reading: They make judgments about the disciples of the Lord, and Jesus has to defend them. So too, we must be very careful. We have to be very careful about not making judgments about people, about the motives, about the integrity of the individual when we do not know what the truth is. It is often very interesting, watching somebody who is doing things that are wrong, somebody who clearly has a problem, and then when you finally have an opportunity to speak to the person and they tell you what is going on in their life or what the problems have been in their life, suddenly, you understand why they do what they do. And they are not fully responsible for it, very often. Then, of course, you feel like you are two inches tall for having made all these rash judgments about the person without having knowledge.
That is exactly what Saint Paul is saying. He even goes to the point of saying, "I don't even judge myself." So for us, we need to make sure that we just simply keep our eyes on the Lord. If we see somebody doing something that is wrong, we need to pray for them that they will stop doing whatever it is that is wrong, that they will be healed of whatever may be the difficulty underneath; we can certainly do that. But it is not for us to make a judgment about the goodness of the person, about the morality of the person, because we do not know why they are doing what they are doing. That is where the difference comes in.
The Lord knows what is in the heart - we do not. All we can judge is according to the appearance, but that again is made very clear in Scripture: Man judges by the appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. We need to recognize that and make sure we are constantly being reminded of it. We are not the judge and we cannot judge the person. We can judge the action but not the individual. As long as we keep that distinction, we are fine; but most of us do not. Most of us look at the action and make a judgment of the person, and that is the part that will be condemned within us because we are not the judge. Saint James says that if you are the one who is doing this, you are not a follower of the law, you are its judge. There is only one judge, and it is not us - it is the Lord. And so we cannot try to usurp His position. Rather, we must fall beneath His Will and seek to do His Will, and part of that is charity, not judgment. The judgment on our part comes out of our pride and that is something that needs to go. So what we need to focus on is making sure that we are not judging the person, but rather, that what we are seeking to do is to love our neighbor.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.