“Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged”

Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

One of Lord Jesus’ most-famous sayings. But to understand its meaning, we clearly need a little context.

Because if we human beings stopped judging altogether, we would smash up the car and make enemies real quick. Plus none of us would ever learn anything.

Whenever you pull into a parking place, you have to judge the stopping distance and apply the brake proportionately. Whenever you encounter another human being, you have to judge what tone and manner of conversation fit the situation, to try to avoid giving offense, and to foster communication. And some of us have the responsibility of training others in doing good and avoiding evil—parents, teachers, supervisors, etc. So we have to judge the actions of others, and apply discipline sometimes–when our charges break the rules.

Constant judgments, therefore, in this life of ours.

What does our Creator and Lord mean, then, when He commands that we not judge? The answer is actually quite easy, quite precise, and readily available in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude to our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (para. 678)

Our attitude toward our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.

To understand ‘judge not, lest you be judged,’ we have to start with: Almighty God brought me into being, and has offered me eternal life in Christ, without my deserving it. God has loved me without me deserving it.

Therefore: let me love my neighbor without stopping to wonder about whether or not he or she deserves it. Let me love my neighbor with divine love. This is someone with whom I want to share heaven. And we both need mercy to get there.

Ask and You Shall Receive the good Holy Spirit

on my way down to kiss the ring of the fisherman, 3/9/00

Seventeen years ago today, I assisted at Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. He welcomed seminarians into his little chapel in the papal apartment every morning. Room enough for about 30 people, with half of them standing along the back wall. I’ll never forget how we got ushered in there at 7am, hushed, after passing through a chintzy metal detector and going up an old elevator—and there he was, kneeling in front of the altar, preparing to vest for Mass. Afterwards, we got to meet him in the library outside the chapel, and he encouraged us in our service to Christ.

On that day–March 9, 2000–the sun shone through the crisp Roman air. Spring was springing–just like it is here, in what I like to think of as the second-most-beautiful city in the world, Roanoke, Va.

This weather reminds us of the ancient origins of our English word for the 40 days before Easter. The word comes from “lengthen,” because the days get longer. “Lent” literally means “springtime.”

Which is why, when the Lord tells us, “Ask, and you shall receive,” we immediately blurt out: “Please! No snow this weekend!” He promised that He would lavish “good things” on those who pray. Snow ain’t no good thing.

st john paul iiBut, speaking of those “good things:” again we must briefly contend with a slight discrepancy in what our Lord said on two different occasions.

As we read at today’s Holy Mass, St. Matthew recorded the Lord, during the Sermon on the Mount, promising “good things” to those who pray. But when St. Luke recorded Christ’s teachings on prayer, He quoted Him as promising the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

So is it “good things” or “the Holy Spirit?”

Come on, people. This apparent discrepancy hardly poses the kind of tricky challenge we faced yesterday, when we had to clear up what the “sign of Jonah” was. This one is easy by comparison. After all, what thing could be as good as the Holy Spirit? The original Goodness from which all things flow?

So, if it be His will that snow fall this weekend, on the very night when we lose an hour’s sleep, then so be it. We can take it. God’s will be done.

By the day seventeen years ago when I had the privilege of kissing the fisherman’s ring on his finger, St. John Paul II had grown old and thoroughly enfeebled. His vigorous youth–when he hiked, and camped out, and said Mass on the back of a kayak for his college students–had vanished.

But he rejoiced in the Lord nonetheless. He rejoiced in the divine will. He rejoiced in the great mystery of Christ crucified, in the springtime–the mystery by which a spring will come that will never fade.


Trollope, Petards, and Providence

In my middle age, I have come to love reading Anthony Trollope novels.

Trollope’s characters all have one thing in common:  They wander through life in a fundamentally hapless manner.  Sometimes, they have grand plans, and the plans never get realized.  Sometimes they have delusions of grandeur about their own sterling qualities, and they never live up to those delusions.  They fill their minds with pure visions of what life will be like, and it never works out that way.

Anthony TrollopeNow, this does not mean that Trollope novels depress the reader.  To the contrary.  As we all know, nothing is more truly funny than comparing the schemes and plans of man, the delusions and airy castles in the sky, with the pure reality that dwells in the mind of God.

God does not hand us scorpions and stones for breakfast.  That is a motto to live by.  The Almighty simply doesn’t hand us scorpions and stones for breakfast.

Let’s try to remember this—that God is in charge, and not us; that He is much better, and smarter, and kinder to us than we are to ourselves.  Let’s try to remember all that, and pray, instead of scheming too hard about what is to come.

Then we too will smile in the end, even when we manage to hoist ourselves by our own petards.  We will smile right along with our heavenly Father at the fact that we are a fundamentally hapless and comical race, we human beings.

House on Rock

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

I think the crucial historical facts that we need for understanding the Parable of the House Built on Rock would be:

1. In ancient Palestine, the vast majority of newly married men served a surveyor, architect, engineer, general contractor, zoning lawyer, and brick layer for the modest dwelling of the new family.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico2. If you lived on a rocky hillside, your choice of building site would pretty much make itself. But if you lived in a valley or on the open plain, you had to consider what might happen during October and November.

During the rainy season, storms burst forth with great suddenness. Sandy areas immediately found themselves coursing with little rivers of run-off.

So the prudent homebuilder would excavate the sand to find the rocky stratum below. He would never lay his first course of bricks on anything other than a large, solid rock. Because he knew that the day would come when a stream of fast-running water would break against whatever his first course of bricks sat on. If those bricks sat on sand: see ya! Collapse.

Once the parable’s image crystallizes in our imaginations, the meaning comes clear to us as easily as any of the parables of Christ.

Storms will come. Our relationship with God will be subjected to pressures, extreme pressures. If we flimflam our way through our prayers, we will wind up naked and exposed to every gust of wind and squall of rain.

But if Christ comes first; if He comes first on the balmy, temperate days; if He comes first on the cozy, crisp winter days; if He comes first even on the days when life is easy, then, when the storms rage, we will have a warm and cozy house in which to shelter ourselves.

Thanks for the Kind Wishes

My dear, magnanimous mother had never set foot in a Catholic parish church.

Nonetheless, she kindly gave birth to me in a Catholic university hospital, underneath a crucifix, on the 1,768th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Irenaeus.

The beginning of the first Coach-John-Thompson era at the university was still two years away, and none of the hospital employees involved in my birth received artificial contraceptives or abortifacients as part of their health-care plan.

…The Roman emperor killed Irenaeus and thousands of other Christians in the city of Lyon in AD 202, on the day before the anniversary of the martyrdoms of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul—who had also been killed by the emperor, a century and a half earlier.

When Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, he recalled the words of St. Irenaeus. The martyr spoke to his friends on the occasion of his move from Asia Minor to France:

All Christians everywhere must be united with the Church of Rome. It is through communion with the Church of Rome that all the faithful have preserved the Apostolic Tradition.

More to come on this subject at this evening’s Fortnight-for-Freedom Mass. In the meantime:

We want to build our spiritual houses on rock, not sand. Birthdays come and go. Political situations come and go. Facebook posts come and go. The rock we need is Peter and his successors. The rock we need is the Church of Rome, founded on the blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul.