More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
One of the essential tenets of our religion holds that God judges souls. We do not. We do not have what it takes to penetrate deeply enough into another person’s soul so as to know whether it be good or evil. After all, we can barely manage to penetrate into our own souls; we can hardly begin to sort them out.
Sometimes we have to exercise limited judgment over external matters pertaining to other people. People with great responsibilities have to do it a lot. But our prayer as Christians is always: Lord, be merciful. Father, forgive. May everyone get to heaven. Have mercy on me, and help me to be good like other people are, because I am really the worst sinner I know.
Also, even in the realm of limited judgments about external matters: the wise philosopher of old, Aristotle, warned against anyone trying to exercise judgment of any kind over someone more experienced.
None of us have the right, really, either to blame or to praise anyone who knows more than we do. It goes for both praise and blame. Just as it requires superior wisdom and experience justly to blame another for his or her bad actions, it likewise requires superior wisdom to praise someone for actions we judge to be good.
The simple way of saying this is: Parents have the right and duty to praise and/or censure their children. Children have no standing either to criticize or to commend their parents. If a little boy says, “Daddy, you are such a good daddy!” the wise father would have to say to himself: “That’s nice. But it doesn’t mean that I am good. Only a father wiser than myself could really give me such a compliment.”
This is why I do not understand why anyone would think that he or she has the standing to make any judgment at all about Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. Is there any question that Pope Benedict is a wiser and more experienced man than I am? There is no question. Not a person on the earth can really say that he or she is wiser or more experienced than the Pope. So really it makes no sense to judge the decision at all. Bad or good, the Pope will answer to God for it. For our part: we pray for him; we love him.
For nearly eight years, we have been praying for “Benedict, our Pope” at every Mass. That’s well over 2500 times for me—praying for Pope Benedict at the altar. It has been a privilege to be able to do so, a privilege granted to me despite my unworthiness.And: Can any of us doubt that the Pope has been lovingly praying for us all this time, too? No, we cannot doubt it. He certainly has been. And we know that he will continue to pray for us, as he enters his hidden life inside the precincts of the tomb of St. Peter.
If you remember exactly one year ago, on this day of Lent last year, we talked about how the shortness of life, and the inevitability of death, makes the Creed of the Catholic Church a lot more interesting.
Our Holy Father resigns his office today. Indeed, that makes today an unusual day in the history of the world. But is it earth-shattering? I mean, after all: before we know it, Pope Benedict will be dead, just like the rest of us.
So let’s just focus on God, and pray that everything happen in such a way that everyone will be able to get to heaven. And let me do my little part, and leave the business of judging to the wiser and more experienced people, and to God.