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.