Friday, January 19, 2018

Judge actions, not persons





Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the recent debates surrounding Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia is the astounding ease with which so many Catholics on social media have fallen into the temptation of judging persons rather than actions.  Anyone with a different opinion is instantly assigned a label and placed into a rival camp that is deemed to be the enemy of the Catholic faith.  The language of war is used to describe various factions that are supposedly competing for the soul of the Catholic Church. Prominent Catholics are convicted of guilt by association if they show (or are shown) respect for the wrong type of person.

This is exactly what the enemy wants:  to divide us.  A united Church is the enemy's biggest fear.  Jesus told us, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." (John 13:35)  If Catholics truly loved one another, the entire world would be converted.  So what does the enemy do?  He sows mistrust in our ranks.  Instead of assuming the best about our fellow Catholics, we suspect them of ulterior motives.  The result is that the world sees us as a bunch of squabbling children, and we are no longer offering the world that which it is lacking:  love.


It is established Catholic doctrine that we are to judge actions, not persons:
"However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God."  CCC 1861
This is the entire point of the parable of the tares and the wheat in Matthew 13.  Nobody knows the state of their own soul, let alone the soul of anyone else.  To attempt to "purge" or "defend" the Church against any group of persons is to attempt to separate the tares from the wheat before the appointed time.


Father Anthony Spadaro, in a July 2017 article, called attention to "Manichean" elements in certain segments of the Catholic and Evangelical churches in the United States:
"At times this mingling of politics, morals and religion has taken on a Manichean language that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil."
Manicheans believed that some parts of creation are intrinsically evil (e.g., scorpions and hornets).  Saint Augustine famously refuted this belief in Book 7 of his Confessions:
"That evil, then, which I sought whence it was, is not any substance; for were it a substance, it would be good. For either it would be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good, or a corruptible substance, which unless it were good it could not be corrupted. I perceived, therefore, and it was made clear to me, that Thou made all things good, nor is there any substance at all that was not made by You; and because all that You have made are not equal, therefore all things are; because individually they are good, and altogether very good, because our God made all things very good."
This, of course is one of the first lessons of the Bible:
"And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good." (Genesis 1:31)
That we have been corrupted by original sin shows only that we were created good.  When we label persons and judge them, we are falling into the Manichean error of dividing creation between good and evil.  All of creation - every human being - is good.  It is the misuse of that creation through sinful actions that is intrinsically evil.

Original Sin

Judging persons is ultimately an attempt to blame God's creation for our own wrongdoing.  When God asked Adam what he had done in Genesis 3:11, instead of acknowledging the intrinsic evil of his own actions, Adam tried to place the blame on a person:  Eve.  In the very next chapter we see the fruit of judging persons when Cain blames Abel for his own failure to present a pleasing offering to the Lord. 

Jesus told us:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  (Matthew 22:37-39)
We see how closely these commandments are related by the blame shifting behavior attempted by Adam and Cain in Genesis 3 and 4.  When we judge and label other persons, we are imitating Adam and Cain by trying to deflect from our own shortcomings.  We then fall into the worst of all sins, pride, by thanking God that at least we are not like those other people:
"O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican."  (Luke 18:11)
The Hermeneutics of the Person

Neither Pope Francis nor any of his predecessors paid any heed to paranoia about various groups who presented a danger to the Church from within.  The Pope never preaches against "liberals" or "conservatives" or any other group of persons.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio describes this in Chapter 6 of a recent book as the Pope's "hermeneutics of the person":
"Pope Francis evaluates reality through the person, or rather, he puts the person first and thus evaluates reality.  What matters is the person, the rest comes as a logical consequence.
Every person, in fact, has value in themselves, and is therefore important and lovable." 
Every person is good.  Every person makes mistakes and acts in ways that are intrinsically evil.  The same person can be correct on one issue and wrong on another. It is not OK to discredit a person because they happen to disagree with you on certain issues.  It is appropriate to acknowledge where you agree, and to praise and support other persons for what they do well, no matter what they have done wrong. We all do wrong every day and need each other's support and encouragement to do better.

Let us strive to keep our comments focused on the merit of actions and ideas, while entrusting all persons to the justice and mercy of God.

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