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Love Is the Thing, Even if I Want to Judge

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. ~ Psalm 130:3-4

I’m working on not being so judgmental. I wonder why I judge people, what the need is to reckon another person’s rectitude with God. It’s a dangerous path I walk when I judge. But it feels so good to pronounce the words that condemn or belittle. I kid myself that I say it out of concern for their souls.

I’m sitting in on an RCIA program this year, and I’m learning some things I didn’t know I didn’t know. For instance, did you know that the indelible mark of Baptism on your soul made you a Christian? No, it was not accepting Jesus as your Savior, or growing up in the Church. It was Baptism.

You might not accept the fact of your Christian soul, intellectually. Or you might believe, but not obey. You might reject Christ, embarking on a path of resolute evil, and finally spend all eternity in the loneliness and desolation of hell. But in your human lifetime the mark endures. You are a Christian, adopted into the divine family of God against your will. Ha!

I love the Church. I was an ignorant cradle Catholic who wandered into adulthood poorly armored against sin, fell badly from grace, and descended into a habitual bitterness that ached physically. Years of disappointment and rage at God led me to a precipice, where grace found me teetering. Conversion erupted in me, an agonizing rebirth, exploding in the darkness of my heart almost against my will, and led me home to the Catholic religion.

Sacramental life—Eucharist, confession—put my shattered Humpty-Dumpty soul together again, so I love the sacraments passionately. The Church’s wisdom answered my questions and delighted my imagination. My resistance to faith, so great that I had for months prayed with my fist in the air, began to subside. And after much questioning and probing, I found, at last, the grace to yield and really believe.

Suddenly there were angels on my journey with me, and saints—incomparable brothers and sisters—to follow into a greater love of Jesus, of forgiveness and healing, of holiness itself. The adventure had begun in earnest, and continues to this moment, almost twenty years later.

Catholicism saved me, I tell you. This Church that is broken in some ways, is still pure, powerful, and holy in its essence. As Matthew Kelly says, “The answer to everything that is wrong with the Church, is everything that is right with the Church.” She is our mother, our family, our Lord’s body alive among us and within us. She is everything to this poor sinner, saved from her designer hell. I have been loved into new health; beckoned again and again to go still further into love, the steep and demanding road home.

Yeah, Catholicism, pure and simple, means a lot to me. So I leap to judgment when I see disobedience and disrespect for proper authority within the Church. And instead of seeing my brothers and sisters in Christ, I see the danger their errors represent. I see souls in peril, like mine once was. And it makes me cranky.

I’ve been praying about this a lot, lately. How sad that divisiveness within the Church so often kills off our love for one another. We’re a family, and our family is precious and sacred. But, this not being heaven, it’s kind of a mess. I’ve been begging God to give me wisdom about this, to teach me how to love His wounded Body no matter what the obstacle.

I awoke a few mornings ago with this longing still beating its insistent rhythm, and suddenly felt these words enter my mind: “Don’t let the issue be bigger than the person.” I pondered its meaning. So, maybe it’s really literally true, I thought, that loving each person is more important than being right, that sometimes evangelization best occurs in the simplicity of kindness, not arguments.

I think we can be under the mistaken impression that by simply following the “rules” we adequately serve the Lord. And this is partly true. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). Humble obedience is absolutely essential. But let’s look at the root of all the commandments, found in the first two:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt. 22: 37-40).

Naturally, loving one’s neighbor includes charitable correction, on occasion. It’s not love if we leave our brother in ignorance of the truth, simply to avoid offending him. But love cannot be emphasized enough, because God is Himself love, and He is the only way that leads to life.

A familiar warning gives fuel to this newfound determination to confront my own judgments:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

I’m not saying (and neither is St. Paul, nor the Church) that it’s okay to be disobedient; that we ought to have a 1970s-style “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality. All pridefulness, including mine, wounds the Body of Christ, His Church. Us. And I will always, with God’s help, stand against error, endeavoring to write and teach in faithful submission to the Holy Father and to the Magisterium.

But I’m not fit to cast stones or make assumptions about motivation, character, and most especially the state of another person’s soul. I have had it with this conceptual separation from members of my family who also love with zeal, but might not see things the way I do.

I am parched and yearning for the only drink that can satisfy, to follow Jesus deeper into love, with all my inadequacies, depending totally on His grace. I’ve got to keep struggling to love all of my Catholic family. To let their indelibly, authentically Christian souls and the presence of the Great, Triune God who literally dwells in them, outweigh whatever issues threaten to divide us.

Because love is the thing.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).


Lisa Mladinich is the author of  Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children and Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation, (in English and Spanish) available from Our Sunday Visitor, and the founder of AmazingCatechists.com.
  • maria

    I also struggle with loving my neighbour the way Jesus wants me to. One thing that helped me was reading St. John Marie Vianney’s sermons. In one of them, he says why we can never know the state of anyone’s soul, even if their sin was witnessed by us, and they confessed to it.

    If I remember right, it goes something like this: at any moment any soul can change its will from bad to good. Since we can’t predict the future, we can’t be sure that a person who seems to have bad will today, is going to remain that way tomorrow. Even if we witnessed what appeared to be a sinful act, and the person even admitted it, we still can’t know that the person will not convert the next moment. Their conversion might be invisible to us, so it might already have happened.

    Of course, to live this consistently would require great resilience against disappointment! Holy resilience!

    To practise this is the work of a lifetime! What a great challenge!

    Congratulations on your return, and welcome home!

    • Maria, thank you! St. John Vianney is one of my most favorite saints. I talk to him frequently and love my little book of his quotes. What a perfect insight to this. It can be very upsetting to hear our church bashed, or Catholics in public life creating scandal, but we don’t know what God is doing in their souls. Thank you so much!

  • Mary Kochan

    Oh, wow. What a great article. Lisa, you are so inspiring.

    And just this morning I was seriously wishing I could slap Nancy Pelosi…

    • ROFL! You are so funny. I understand completely, and know that impulse well. It is hard waiting for the coming of the Kingdom! thank you for your comment!

      • What’s so funny, Lisa, about slapping Nancy Pelosi? She deserves worse than that — like being thrown out of office. Love for neighbor does not include putting misguided politicians into power where they can inflict greater evil upon a greater number.

        BTW, pardon my ignorance, but who is Matthew Kelly?

        • Hi Robert,

          Thanks for your comment.

          What’s funny to me, not necessarily to you, is the humanity of a person who is Christian and striving to love her enemy feeling the strong impulse to be unChristian and slap a hypocrite. It’s funny to me, because it’s so normal and understandable. We all struggle with sinful urges. I have to laugh. It describes me perfectly.

          I have to take issue with your equating loving our enemies with putting them into office. Neither I nor Mary put Nancy Pelosi into office. The two issues are unrelated. One is loving the enemy, the other is giving explicit approval to the sins of others. Not the same thing.

          I can’t speak for Mary, but for me, loving my enemy is praying for her soul and entrusting her to God.

          Matthew Kelley is a Catholic author and motivational speaker from Australia who can be found at dynamiccatholic.com. His book, “Rediscovering Catholicism” is part of a major evangelism project and has been read by hundreds of thousands of Catholics across the country.

          Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

          Lisa

  • jeffjane99

    I really struggled with loving my neighbors, friends and family members who were pro-abortion and vocal proponents of politicians who are pro-abortion. Unitl I went on retreat with Immaculee Ilibagiza. The evil that was done to her family, friends and countrymen was staggering. Yet, by the grace of God was able to forgive the very man who murdered her parents with a machete. Her story of forgiveness is nothing short of miraculous. After hearing her testimony, I realized that the same rosary she prayed relentlessly while in hiding could also help me. In the face of evil, only God’s grace can give us hearts of love.

    • Beautiful, beautiful! So encouraging. Thank you so much for this powerful witness.

    • maria

      Would you like to say more about what you learned from Immaculee Ilibagiza? I’d be interested. I often wonder how long I’d last in a war situation, or as a martyr. I have such trouble with my puny trials, it shames me to think of how I’d behave under big ones. Thanks.

  • maria

    I’m glad my comment about St. John Marie Vianney was helpful. Thanks Lisa, for your encouragement!

    Thank you, jeffjane for your comment. My most inspiring saint when it comes to forgiveness is St. Josephine Bakhita.

    I find the greatest challenge is to be meek and militant at the same time. As we know, meekness is the opposing virtue to the sin of wrath, as diligence is to sloth. These I find the hardest to practise because they seem like polar opposites to me (mea culpa). It’s so easy to allow sloth to prevent us from, for example, taking the trouble to go to the best parish within our geographical proximity, where we know we won’t be brainwashed into believing, for example, that the Church teachings can change.

    Sometimes a real slap in the face can and should be administered with charity. We’re not pacifists! One of the reasons I find it so hard to practise meekness and militancy at the same time is because I feel like I should have been slapped countless times in my life, and I wasn’t. So, in trying to practise ‘doing unto others as I would have them do unto me’, it’s tempting to try to make up for the liberalism I was exposed to in my authority figures in my formative years.

    Many saints have demonstrated this simultaneous meekness and militancy. I guess it must take practice though, to do it well. Mothers probably know more about this. Pelosi and her followers would go ballistic if she was ‘abused’ this way. We’d never hear the end of it.

    She should indeed be removed from office as a start, and ex-communicated, along with countless others who scandalize the faithful. But who will do this?

    I’m so glad I’m not a child watching all of this. How children need our prayers.

    • Amen to all, Maria. We should absolutely be faithful as the Church Militant, and protest abuses, and stand up for what is right. But, as you say, in humility, we have to acknowledge two things (at least): 1) we all sin and are blind; 2) our Catholic sisters and brothers, however sinful, are still sons and daughters of God, and should be treated with civility.

      Our prayers, sacrifices, charitable rebukes of hypocrisy, activism, and so forth, should be done with an awareness of God dwelling in the souls of our enemies. This should be a cause of great hope, as well as a reminder to us to act in trusting humility. The battle is the Lord’s, as David said, facing Goliath.

      Let us pray! Oh, Lord, it’s so easy to say these things, and so hard to do them. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

  • Maria. I really like your dichotomy — meek vs. militant. How to balance the two? I think last Sunday’s Gospel on Jesus cleansing the temple (not without militancy) may speak to this issue. It might be noteworthy that the Lord showed more forbearance with the sellers of doves than with the moneychangers. (I’m not exactly sure how doves vs. moneychangers relates to your dichotomy, however, but it’s worth noting).

    • maria

      That’s interesting, Mr. Struble. The cleansing of the temple is incredibly mysterious, and therefore a worthy subject for meditation. Anyone can apply the lessons, even someone who’s just dusting (or changing the oil)!

      It goes without saying, but nonetheless I’ll say it: Our Lady is both meek and militant – a meek handmaid who is also terrible as an army. Her words are so powerful, and yet she’s never appeared angry, to my knowledge. She cries, and smiles, and even laughs, but to my knowledge she’s never showed anger. She threatens, and warns, but she does it all with unimaginable beauty and charm. She frightens even her friends to whom she appears, until they’re calmed down by her friendly words.

      I sometimes approach these difficulties on a very down to earth level. For example, I’ve noticed that when I have anger over some injustice (sometimes a daily occurrence) the adrenalin rush is the hardest thing to handle, because it’s so sudden and overwhelming. It can cause me to tremble. Then I get impatient with myself for having such a strong reaction.

      I thank God for that reaction, though, because I know that anger can be useful if it’s directed properly. I’d rather have this trial than the one of practical indifference, and the false humility that I detect sometimes in myself when I withdraw from battle and wait for someone else to engage for me.

      As you may already know, in his book ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ St. Francis de Sales advises that once we realise we’re angry we mustn’t be vexed by that too! I read that he struggled with his anger for 20 years before he finally overcame it. That’s encouraging to me, a beginner.

      This might sound weird, but I’ll risk that, and say one thing that really calms me down is humming. Every day for 20 minutes I hum on the most comfortable note. When I do this every day, I’m far less likely to be cornered by the adrenalin! Not only does this relax my voice, which I know expresses my state all too well, but it helps me sing better at Mass!

  • Maria. At the parish tonight, we watched part 1 & 2 of Fr. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series. He noted that Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” is not concession, but a non-violent form of resistance. It is a tactic which seeks to draw the aggressor into another mind-set or alternate perspective. It can actually be a clever sort of counter-stroke that puts the ball in the opponent’s court. But your humming is a good tactic too.

    • maria

      What you say reminds me of how the North American Jesuit martyrs turned the other cheek and stunned their torturers with their manliness. Thanks for the reminder. That’s the highest test of self-control that I know of, and of course, a trial of faith.